The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has written a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document to field questions about the new wireless telephone laws that go into effect on July 1, 2008. Let's take a look at some of the information they have provided.
There are two laws going into effect on July 1. The first addresses drivers over the age of 18. These drivers can use a hands-free device to operate their phone while driving. There is a provision for emergencies, so you can use your phone to summon help, even if you don't have a wireless device. The second refers to younger drivers. Motorists under 18 may not use their phones at all when driving. Passengers are exempt from the requirements to use hands-free devices.
If you're convicted on a violation, the first offense is $20 and subsequent convictions are $50. It's a reportable offense, but you will not receive DMV violation points. It will, however, show on your driving record.
There is no grace period for the law, so have your wireless device in use by July 1. In fact, it's best to get into the habit now so you don't have to worry if you forget when the law takes effect.
You can be pulled over just for using your cell phone if you don't have
a hands-free device. Push-to-talk phones are not exempt from the law,
either, so make sure you have a headset of some sort. You must have one ear uncovered,
so a full headset (one that covers both ears) is not acceptable. If
your phone has a speaker phone function, CHP says that is acceptable as
You're not prohibited from dialing your phone, but CHP strongly recommends that you don't dial and drive. Many phones have a voice-activated feature. It's best if you use it instead. And while text messaging isn't specifically prohibited, an officer can still ticket you if you are, in their opinion, distracted and operating your vehicle in an unsafe manner. And really, text messaging while driving is never safe. Just don't do it.
There are some additional items for drivers under 18. Even emancipated minors cannot use their cell phones. And parents won't be able to give teens permission either. Nor will a person over 25 in the car with you allow you to use the phone. The restriction is strict - no driver under 18 can use a phone in the car unless it is an emergency. What's different here is that it is not a stoppable offense if the driver is using a hands-free device. It's considered a secondary violation (like seat belts), so an officer can cite you if you are pulled over for another violation. However, if you use the phone without a hands-free device the officer can pull you over for a primary violation. It's obvious - don't use your phone unless it's an emergency (a real emergency where you need police, fire, or an ambulance) and you won't have to worry about it.
Distracted drivers are a big problem on our roads. Let's hope that this law at least reduces the instances of drivers being preoccupied behind the wheel. When you're operating a large, deadly machine you can't risk anything taking away your attention from your most important task - driving safely.
iPhone image: robertnelson on Flickr.
By Becky Scott