California Cell Phone Use and Texting While Driving Laws

text driving 2

Have you recently been issued a traffic ticket in California for texting or talking on your cellphone while driving? If so, you should not take this violation lightly. Due to the insurmountable number of deaths that result from cellphone use and driving in California each year, drivers who violate these laws are prosecuted aggressively. Thus, it is important to understand the laws that govern cellphone use and driving in California and the punishments that will result from a violation of these laws.

Using Your Cellphone While Driving (VC 23123)

Under California Vehicle Code Section 23123, you are not allowed to use a cellphone device while driving unless the device is designed to allow you to engage in a telephonic conversation without having to hold the device in your hands. If you hold your cellphone to listen or talk on your phone while driving, you are violating the California Vehicle Code and are exposed to getting stopped and being issued a citation by a traffic officer.

Texting And Driving (VC 23123.5)

In addition to the laws pertaining to using your cellphone to make phone calls while driving, sending written communication such as text messages or emails while driving is also illegal under California law. Under California Vehicle Code Section 23123.5, it is illegal to “write, send, or read a text-based communication” while you are operating a vehicle. However, if you read, enter, or select a phone number or the name of a contact on your phone with the intent to (a) communicate with this person through a hands-free device or (b) deactivate your device, you are not violating California law.

Penalties for Using Cellphone Device or Texting and Driving

A violation of either of these laws carries the same punishment. If you are cited for texting and driving or using your cellphone while driving a vehicle, you face the following penalties:

  • A twenty dollar ($20) fine for your first offense;

    Texting and driving traffic citation.
    You may be pulled over if an officer witnesses you texting and driving.
  • A fifty dollar ($50) fine for any subsequent offense;
  • Additional penalty assessments and fees; and
  • Having the offense(s) shown on your driving record. 1

It is important to note that, although the offense will show up on your DMV driving record, you will not receive a point on your record. In addition, the penalty assessments and fines for either of these offenses are hefty. This means that, although the base fine is only $20 for a first offense, you could pay upwards of $165 in total for your citation.

How to Avoid Violating Texting and Cellphone Use While Driving Laws

There are certain measures that you can take in order to engage in a phone conversation while you drive without violating any laws. The easiest way you can avoid violating these laws is by purchasing an ear piece that allows you to engage in a conversation while both of your hands are placed on the wheel. You may either use a Bluetooth earpiece or headphones equipped with a microphone feature. However, California prohibits you from having headsets or earplugs in both ears while operating a vehicle. 2

Another solution, which may be more expensive, is to set up a blue-tooth device in your car that automatically syncs to your phone and allows you to answer calls and make phone calls by simply pressing a few buttons on your hand-wheel. Many newer cars today come with this feature.

Exceptions to Laws Against Cellphone Use

The purpose of traffic laws is to keep California roads as safe as possible. Therefore, if you find yourself in an emergency situation in which you must use your telephone to communicate with the police, the paramedics, or the fire department while driving, you may use your cellphone without having to fear that you are violating any of these laws. However, this only applies to communication between you and an emergency service provider, and not your friends or relatives. (VC 23123(c)).

It is important to note that in 2014, the California Court of Appeal ruled that you are allowed to use your phone’s GPS device while driving, so long as you are not holding it with your hands or communicating with other individuals while using your phone’s GPS. (People v. Spriggs, 2014)

Call Wallin & Klarich Today

If you have been issued a citation for using your cellphone to talk or text while driving, call Wallin & Klarich today. Our attorneys have over 40 years of experience helping clients get outstanding results in their traffic matters, and we are ready to help you fight your ticket now.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich California criminal defense attorney near you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 466-5245. We will be there when you call.


1. [http://www.chp.ca.gov/pdf/media/cell_phone_faq.pdf]
2. [http://drivinglaws.aaa.com/laws/headsets/]

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