What Is California’s Cell Phone Law? | Penalties & Proving Distracted Driving in an Injury Case

Last Updated on: 12th July 2023, 06:46 am

Despite the well-known dangers of texting while driving, a Harris Poll in 2022 found 70% of drivers have used a cell phone while driving in the past 90 days. 62% of respondents video called, talked, or texted on their phone while driving recently, 37% checked social media or another app, and a shocking 26% recorded or watched a video or livestreamed. At any given moment, the NHTSA estimates that 8% of drivers are using a hands-free or handheld cellphone.

Currently, 36 states ban handheld phone use and 48 states to ban text messaging while driving. What is California’s cell phone law? The hands free law in California was first passed in 2008 but it has been expanded several times. As a general rule, drivers in California cannot use a handheld device while driving, but hands-free devices are acceptable. Drivers under 18 are prohibited from using a cell phone in any way while driving.

California distracted driving law doesn’t just result in penalties for violations. If you are injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, proving they violated a California texting and driving law can be enough to establish negligence.

Here is what you need to know about cell phone laws in California and how these laws can strengthen your case after an accident.

Understanding California Hands Free Laws

The California hands free law went into effect in 2008, prohibiting all motorists from using a handheld cell phone while driving. The law places even stricter restrictions on minors: drivers under 18 cannot use a cell phone while driving, even hands-free. A year later, the California Wireless Communications Device Law went into effect. This 2009 law prohibits drivers from reading, writing, and sending text messages while driving.

A third new CA cell phone law went into effect in 2017 to further strengthen rules against distracted driving. The 2017 law bars drivers from holding a cell phone while driving but allows the use of a cell phone as long as it’s mounted properly to a center console or windshield. However, the driver may only use voice control or a single swipe or finger tap to perform actions on the device. Before this law was passed, drivers could still hold their phone while driving if they were using speakerphone or voice control.

All three of these California text and driving laws prohibit certain behaviors while driving and establish penalties for violations. A fourth law that went into effect in 2021 adds an additional penalty for texting and driving in California.

California Vehicle Code (CVC) Cell Phone Laws:

  • 23123 (a) VC: Prohibits driving while using a cell phone unless it is set up to allow hands-free listening and talking
  • 23123.5 (a) VC: Prohibits texting while driving
  • 23124 (b) VC: Prohibits driving while using a cell phone, handheld or hands free (under 18)
  • 23123.5 VC: Prohibits driving while using a cell phone except while using it in an approved hands-free manner with the device mounted to the center console, dashboard, or windshield
  • 12810.3 VC: Adds one point to a motorist’s driver’s license for a second violation of the above laws within 36 months

New California Cell Phone Law (2021) – Violations Now Add a Point to Your Record

The latest of new driving laws in California in 2021 introduces an additional penalty for violating cell phone laws under the California Vehicle Code. Under the new law, which went into effect on July 1, 2021, a single point is issued to a motorist’s driving record if they have been convicted of the same cell phone violation in the past 36 months.

Existing California law prohibits adding points to a driver’s record for electronic device violations. However, the new law only applies to CVC distracting driving violations that occur within 36 months of being convicted for the same offense.

The California DMV issues points to a driver’s record for specific violations of the Vehicle Code. When a driver accumulates a certain number of points, their license can be suspended or revoked. A small number of offenses can result in automatic suspension such as driving without a license or driving under the influence (DUI), but other point offenses have a penalty of 1 or 2 points.

A driver can face license suspension or revocation if they accumulate: four points within 12 months, six points within 24 months, or eight points within 36 months. The California DMV will suspend a driver’s license for six months for being a negligent operator or having too many points.

One-point traffic violations include:

  • Cell phone violations (second or subsequent offense within 36 months)
  • Speeding
  • Running a red light
  • At-fault accident
  • Unsafe lane change

Two-point traffic violations are more serious and include:

  • Reckless driving
  • Driving over 100 mph
  • Driving on a revoked or suspended license
  • Hit and run resulting in injury or property damage
  • Evading law enforcement

How Much Is a Cell Phone Ticket in California?

Texting and driving fines in California are not cheap. The base fine is $20 for a first offense and $50 for a second or subsequent offense – but penalty assessments and fees significantly increase the cost of a ticket. A texting while driving ticket in California is at least $162 for a first citation and at least $285 for a second offense.

The penalty may seem high, but it’s currently the lowest base fine of any violation of the California Vehicle Code.

Is a Cell Phone Ticket a Point in California?

The new California cell phone law that went into effect in 2021 adds a point to your driver’s license only if you are convicted of a second CVC cell phone offense within 36 months. There are no points added to your license for a first offense.

Injured in a Crash? Proving a Texting While Driving Accident Case

If you are injured in an accident, you have the right to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party to seek compensation for the losses you suffered. In most cases, a successful case requires proving negligence which means the defendant failed to behave in a way a reasonable person would have in the same situation. This can be challenging, even in a case that seems straightforward, but there is another option if the at-fault driver violated a safety law.

Negligence per se is a legal principle that presumes someone is negligent if they violated a statute and caused injury to someone the statute was intended to protect. California cell phone laws are a good example as these laws are designed to prevent accidents caused by distracted drivers.

To establish the defendant was negligent per se, you will need to show that they:

  • Violated a safety statute or regulation,
  • The violation caused you injury,
  • The injury was the type of harm the law was meant to protect, and
  • You were someone the statute was designed to protect.

A California texting and driving accident lawyer can help you build your case by gathering evidence that shows the defendant violated cell phone laws and this behavior caused your injuries. A citation issued to the other driver, eyewitness statements, and traffic camera footage can all be evidence that they violated the law. Your attorney will also seek a subpoena from their wireless provider which can show when phone calls and texts were made and sent to see if they overlap the time of the accident.

Negligence per se is rebuttable which means the defendant can challenge the presumed negligence in a few ways:

  • The defendant did not violate the statute,
  • The defendant’s violation did not cause your injuries,
  • You were not in the class of people the law was designed to protect, or
  • The defendant violated the statute due to an emergency and the violation was reasonable under the circumstances.

Establishing negligence per se shifts the burden of proof to the defendant who must provide evidence demonstrating why they were not negligent. This is not easy in cases involving texting while driving. Unless the defendant can prove they had very good reason for violating the law, such as an emergency that required they use their phone, proving negligence per se may be enough to succeed in your case.

Contact a San Diego Distracted Driving Accident Lawyer

Have you been injured in a crash caused by a distracted driver? An experienced San Diego personal injury lawyer can help you pursue the fair compensation you deserve. Berman & Riedel, LLP represents clients throughout California from our San Diego law office. Our firm has recovered over $100 million in settlements and verdicts with case results that speak for themselves.

Contact our law office today to schedule a free case review and discuss your case.


About Berman & Riedel, LLP firm managing partner attorney William M. Berman:

Attorney William M. Berman focuses his practice in the areas of catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death and elder abuse and neglect. Strictly a plaintiffs’ dedicated firm, he never represents insurance companies in the defense of claims. Mr. Berman’s firm remains staunchly committed to helping those who have suffered serious injury or loss due the negligence, intentional misconduct or wrongful acts of others.

Mr. Berman has grown his firm to what is considered one of the largest and most successful elder abuse/neglect practices within California. Through his continued successes in handling claims involving nursing home and elder abuse and neglect, Mr. Berman remains a prominent figure in advocating on behalf of this vulnerable class of citizens.

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Attorney Bill Berman

William M. Berman, Esquire
Berman & Riedel, LLP
12264 El Camino Real, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92130
ph: (858) 350-8855
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