WHAT’S NEW IN 2017 – CELL PHONE USAGE « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Chill on the Multi-Tasking California Imposes New Requirements for Cell Phone Usage While Driving

For the past decade, California drivers have been prohibited from using a wireless mobile device for conversations unless it is in hands-free or voice-activated mode. In 2008, the Legislature further banned reading, writing, and texting messages while driving.

With evolving technology, dangerous distracted driving has taken further forms not technically prohibited such as taking photos and using GPS devices. A 2015 California Department of Motor Vehicles report noted for 2013 “12 fatal collisions involving handheld cellphone use as an inattention factor, over 500 injury collisions, and nearly 700 property damage collisions.”  2013 also saw some 426,000 violations of the cell phone ban while driving.

Effective January 1, 2017, enhanced Vehicle Code section 23123.5 contains tighter restrictions on driver use of wireless devices. On the more-than-valid intention to save lives, this new section is a study in micro-managerial legislation. A driver may only operate an “electronic wireless communication device,” which “includes, but is not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, a specialized mobile radio device, a handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access, a pager, or a two–way messaging device” if:

  • The device ““is mounted on a vehicle’s windshield” in one of two places: (1) “in a seven-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield farthest removed from the driver or in a five-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield nearest to the driver and outside of an airbag deployment zone” (see Vehicle Code section 26708(b)(12)); or  (2) “on or affixed to a vehicle’s dashboard or center console in manner that does not hinder the driver’s view of the road”; and
  • “The driver’s hand is used to activate or deactivate a feature or function of the handheld wireless telephone or wireless communications device with the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger.”

These prohibitions do not apply to emergency services professionals in the course of their duties or to manufacturer-installed systems that are part of a vehicle.

It remains to be seen whether this wider definition of prohibited actions while behind the wheel will significantly deter such bonehead driving practices.   A violation is subject only to a fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.

For further information, please contact Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Helena Kobrin

March 6, 2017