Wireless Phone Driving Law Takes Effect in California

The California Highway Patrol is ready, and drivers throughout California also should be ready for a new law taking effect July 1 in the state. It bars all drivers from using hand-held wireless phones while operating motor vehicles but lets drivers over 18 use hands-free devices. The law says drivers under 18 may not use hand-held or hands-free phones while operating a vehicle.

The law permits a driver to use a wireless phone to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or another emergency services agency, according to CHP's FAQ page about the new law. The law applies to drivers only -- not to motor vehicle passengers. It does apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws. CHP said it will be legal to use a Bluetooth® or other earpiece device as long as both of the driver's ears are not covered.

The base fine for a first offense is $20, with $50 charged for subsequent convictions. A violation is a reportable offense that will appear on the driver's record, but California DMV will not assign a violation point, CHP says.

The FAQ page explains why the law is stricter for drivers under 18: "Statistics show that teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks. Teen drivers are vulnerable to driving distractions such as talking with passengers, eating or drinking, and talking or texting on wireless phones, which increase the chance of getting involved in serious vehicle crashes."

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