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California Bans All Handheld Device Use Behind the Wheel


California is strengthening its laws against distracted driving. Learn what you can and can’t do behind the wheel.

According to the California Highway Patrol, distracted driving caused by handheld devices caused hundreds of crashes last year – including nearly 700 crashes resulting in properly damages, more than 500 injuries, and 12 fatalities. State law prohibits talking on the phone and sending text messages, but is it enough?

California lawmakers don’t think so. To fight the distracted driving epidemic, California recently passed a new law that will strengthen prohibitions on distracted driving. Effective January 1, drivers will be prohibited from using handheld cell phones behind the wheel for any purpose.

Think Twice Before Posting That Status Update

There are certain activities, like selecting music or using GPS, that seem unobtrusive and even essential to many drivers. But motorists will have to think twice before using them.

The law bans all use of handheld devices, including:

  • Taking selfies or other photographs
  • Using social media
  • Navigating with GPS
  • Browsing or playing music
  • Surfing the web
  • Messaging friends via text or other apps
  • Playing mobile games

Data gathered from your phone or service provider could be used to prove fault in an accident, so it’s best to follow the rules and put your phone away when you’re behind the wheel.

What You Can Do

The new law will allow drivers to use dictation and hands-free modes like voice control. However, it does not address the use of Siri, Cortana, and other virtual assistants. While many search functions now recognize speech, most require users to press a button or open up a program. Under the new law, will that be interpreted and hands-on or hands-off use? The courts may have to decide in the future.