New vehicle codes have been added in recent years to address the rise in cell phone usage. Many people in California have cell phones and may be tempted to talk on the phone while driving. The need to have one hand free from the wheel to hold the device, coupled with attention the driver directs at the phone conversation instead of the road, has caused many people to believe that cell phone use while driving is a distraction and a hazard.
Vehicle Code 23123, which has been revised as of January 2011, states that no driver in a motor vehicle is permitted to use a handheld wireless telephone while driving. Exceptions to this law include the use of a hands-free device which allows the driver to speak and listen to a phone call without removing his or her hands from the wheel. This law was passed with the belief that having both hands available to manipulate the steering wheel is essential to safe driving and avoiding accidents. Those who violate this code are subject to a $20 fine for the first offense, and a $50 fine for each subsequent offense.
There are a few other instances exempt from this vehicle code. The first is during an emergency situation. If the wireless telephone is being used for emergency purposes such as calling a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department or other emergency services agency. Further, the law does not apply to emergency services professionals who use a wireless telephone while operating an authorized emergency vehicle.
Schoolbus and transit vehicle drivers are also permitted to use a wireless telephone while driving their respective vehicles.
Lastly, anyone driving a motor vehicle on private property is exempt from this code, though all drivers should exercise safe, distraction-less driving.
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