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Be aware of new cell phone rules for drivers

Business Law

Posted: May 2, 2008 1:59 a.m.
Updated: July 3, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
Two new laws dealing with the use of wireless telephones while driving go into effect July 1.

The first law prohibits all drivers from using a hand-held wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle. However, motorists 18 and older may use a hands-free device. The second law prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a wireless telephone or a hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle.

Both laws allow a driver to use a wireless telephone to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department or other emergency services agency.

The base fine for the first offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. According to the Uniform Bail and Penalty Schedule, with the addition of penalty assessments, a first offense is $76 and a second offense is $190. The violation is a reportable offense and appears on your driving record. However, the DMV will not assign a violation point.

When the laws go into effect, there will be no grace period. Whether a citation is issued is always at the discretion of the officer based upon his or her determination of the most appropriate remedy for the situation. This law only applies to the person driving a motor vehicle, and not passengers. However, these laws apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws. A law enforcement officer can pull you over just for this infraction.

The law does provide an exception for those operating a commercial motor truck or truck tractor (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicle or tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by a "push-to-talk" feature. However, a push-to-talk feature attached to a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is acceptable. Operators of an authorized emergency vehicle during the course of employment are exempt as are those motorists operating a vehicle on private property.

Drivers 18 and older will be allowed to use a hands-free device to talk on their wireless telephone while driving. The new "hands-free" law does not prohibit adults from dialing a wireless telephone while driving, but drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving. It is legal to use a Bluetooth or other earpiece. However you cannot have both ears covered. The new hands-free law does allow you to use the speaker phone function of your wireless telephone while driving.

The new "hands-free" law does not specifically prohibit drivers 18 and older to text message while driving, but an officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer's opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely. Text messaging while driving is unsafe at any speed and is strongly discouraged.

Drivers under the age of 18 may not use a wireless telephone, pager, laptop or any other electronic communication or mobile services device to speak or text while driving in any manner, even hands-free, except in emergency situations to call police, fire or medical authorities. The reason for the law stricter for provisional drivers is 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.

Parents cannot give permission to allow under 18-year-old drivers to use a wireless telephone while driving. The law applies to all licensed drivers under age of 18, even if emancipated, accompanied by a parent or someone over age 25 years and/or the vehicle is equipped with a "built-in" speaker phone. This restriction will not appear on the minor's provisional license.

A law enforcement officer cannot stop a minor for solely using a hands-free device while driving. For drivers under the age of 18, this is considered a secondary violation meaning that a law enforcement officer may cite you for using a hands-free wireless phone if you were pulled over for another violation.

However, the prohibition against using a handheld wireless telephone while driving is a primary violation for which a law enforcement officer can pull you over.

Kevin Yeam is an attorney in Santa Clarita specializing in insurance claims and civil litigation. His column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Business Law" appears Fridays and rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association. www.SCVBar.org.

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