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Put the phone down: California to enact new distracted driving law

We all know the scene by now - we're driving on a highway or city street and notice the person in the car next to us talking or texting on their cell phone while they're driving. They may even be taking a picture with their phone's camera. We may have even done it ourselves.

California lawmakers want it to become a thing of the past, however. Recent legislation signed by Governor Jerry Brown makes it illegal to be on a cell phone while driving. The law takes effect in January and will be enforced through fines and the offense will appear on the violator's driving record. 

The new law's purpose is simple: to reduce the number of traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers. It's not the first time California has legislated the use of cell phones while driving; it enacted a similar law nearly a decade ago but the new law is an attempt to keep up with advances in cell phone technology.

Here's a closer look at the law and what it entails:

  • It prohibits drivers from using their phones for anything unless they are a using a hands-free phone or Bluetooth advice. That includes actions such as looking at a phone for directions or GPS instructions. Texting, for example, takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of five seconds, which is enough time for a car to travel the length of a football field.
  • Handheld phones may be used to make an emergency call to law enforcement, a medical provider, fire department, or any emergency service-related agency.
  • Cell phones may also be used by those operating an authorized emergency vehicle, or by those operating vehicles on their own private property.
  • Drivers younger than 18 years of age may not use a wireless phone or any device, whether it's hands-free or not. No exception will be made if a parent or other adult is riding with them. They may use a wireless device for emergency situations only.
  • Drivers over 18 will be allowed to use hands-free phones. However, a Bluetooth or other device that's used as an earpiece cannot cover both ears. Drivers over 18 may use the speaker phone function of their cell phone.
  • The fine for a first offense is $76, including penalty assessments on your driving record. A second offense is $190.

This new law should help reduce the number of accidents that are caused by drivers who are distracted behind the wheel. Unfortunately, there will still be crashes that result from drivers who are not paying attention at all times. If you've been injured in an accident involving a distracted driver, contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible to learn about the compensation that would be available to you. 

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