Hands Free … It’s the Law in California


Nanny government continues its pervasive spread today, the effective date of a new law under which California drivers may no longer talk on hand-held cell phones while operating their motor vehicles.

The law as it applies to adults is contained in California Vehicle Code section 23123, which makes it an infraction offense to use a cell phone unless it is “specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.”

Violations of this law carry fines of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. There are exceptions for use of a cell phone for certain specified “emergency purposes”.

More restrictive provisions apply to drivers under the age of 18, who are prohibited by Vehicle Code section 23124 from using any cell phone, even if hands free, or any “mobile service device”. Text messaging is therefore also prohibited for minors. The fines and emergency exceptions are the same for minors as for adults.

This new law is yet another example of what I call LCD (Lowest Common Denominator) legislation. Although studies of the dangers of cell phone use have produced conflicting results regarding the extent of such dangers, it is clear enough that the driving of some people is impaired when they are talking on the cell phone, whether hands free or not. It is also clear enough that others are capable of safely operating their vehicles even while using a hand-held cell phone.

Nevertheless, the governmental response, as is all too often the case, is to prohibit the conduct for everyone, simply because some people (almost certainly a minority of drivers) are too stupid, incompetent or otherwise impaired to safely use their cell phones while driving.

Never mind that we already have laws which prohibit all of the specific kinds of conduct about which proponents of the hands free cell phone law have complained, such as weaving into an adjacent lane (CVC 22107), following too closely behind another vehicle (CVC 21703), driving too fast (CVC 22348-22350), running a red light (CVC 22453) or stop sign (CVC 22450), and reckless driving (23103).

And, as is all too typical of nanny legislation, the new law for adults does not prohibit the considerably more dangerous conduct of dialing a cell phone by hand … or even the use of a cell phone to send a text message while driving. Or many of the other kinds of distracting activities in which California drivers regularly engage.

There has, of course, been a raging debate about cell phone use while driving, some of which is well beyond the limits of reasonable discourse. More about that later.

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The full text of the new California cell phone laws (Vehicle Code section 23123 and 23124) is available online on the Official California Legislative Information website at:

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=veh&group=23001-24000&file=23100-23135

Note that there are two versions of 23123, the first of which is repealed as of July 1, 2011, and replaced by the second.

The other California Vehicle Code sections mentioned above can be found as follows:

CVC 21703 is at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=veh&group=22001-23000&file=22100-22113

CVC 22107 is at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=veh&group=22001-23000&file=22100-22113

CVC 22348-22350 are at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=veh&group=22001-23000&file=22348-22366

CVC 22450 & 22453 are at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=veh&group=21001-22000&file=21450-21468

CVC 23103 is at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=veh&group=23001-24000&file=23100-23135

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