Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate drivers about...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Licensed Agent for 10 Years

UPDATED: Apr 8, 2019

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Distracted driving laws refer to the legislation currently being passed in several states to ban texting and talking on cell phones while driving. Inattentive drivers are the leading cause of accidents, and the statistics emerging about the combination of cell phone use and driving are alarming.

In 2009, 16% of all teenaged drivers killed in car accidents were using cell phones. 18% of all fatal accidents that year involved “distracted driving.” 46% of all drivers under 18 admitted to texting while driving, and 57% admitted to talking on the phone while driving.

The actual numbers may be much higher.

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Distracted Driving Among Adults

Among adults, the numbers are not any better. 20% of all adult drivers text while driving, and cell phones are the cause of nearly 25% of all car accidents. 80% of all crashes are attributed to “distracted driving” in some form; cell phone use accounts for a large number of these accidents.

A driver texting while driving is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a fully attentive driver.

View Distracted Driving Statistics

Many states, recognizing these facts, have been quick to pass legislation banning cell phone use while driving. California has passed several versions of this law, including a new one extending the law to bicyclers.

California Distracted Driving Laws

California’s laws ban hand-held cell phone use for all ages when driving, but allow hands-free cell phone use for those over 18. Texting while driving is banned for all ages. Bus drivers are banned from any cell phone use while driving.

This law took effect on July 1, 2008. The fine is $20 for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.

Exceptions are made for emergency calls to police or rescue personnel, and commercial vehicle drivers, tow truck drivers, and farmers driving tractors or other farm equipment are also not affected by the ban.

California recently passed a ban on texting and talking on handheld devices while riding a bicycle, as well. Bicyclists face a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent offenses.

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California Hands-Free Law

If you are over 18, you have options for becoming “hands-free.” Although some research indicates even hands-free talking is dangerous, most experts agree hands-free talking is no more distracting than having talking passengers in your car.

It is certainly less dangerous than dialing, texting, or talking with a hand-held device while driving.

Hands-free phones employ several methods to help drivers keep their hands off their phones. When dialing, many phones feature “voice dial.” This feature utilizes software that recognizes a voice command to dial a particular number. You record your commands, then repeat them when you are ready to dial.

New “smartphones” have voice recognition software that will even look up unknown numbers with a command to search, and then dial the proper number. Once you have dialed your number, you can talk to your friends on a Bluetooth headset.

Bluetooth technology utilizes a wireless receiver which clips to your ear, allowing you to answer calls, talk, and adjust volume easily, keeping your hands—and your attention—free to operate your car.

If Bluetooth is a bit too advanced for your liking, or if you have trouble hearing with Bluetooth headsets, you can opt for a wired headset. This type of headset connects directly to your phone by means of a plug-in attached to a set of headphones with a built-in microphone.

When using the headset, your hands are free to drive, but you will have to manually open and close or press the button to answer and turn off the phone.

Alternative Hands Free Options for Drivers

After-market car kits are also sold which are both “installed” and “portable.” An installed unit must usually be installed by a professional, while a portable kit can be hooked up by the owner. These kits operate through the speakers of your car’s stereo.

When you receive a call, the stereo is automatically turned down, and you can hear the caller through your speakers.

Your responses are routed through your car’s speakers and to the listener on the other end. While these options can be expensive, they are a great solution to the dilemma that some people have of not being able to tolerate the headsets.

Some newer cars even have built-in Bluetooth installed speaker kits as part of the car’s original equipment. These cars have a screen in the dashboard that flashes the incoming call’s information as you drive, so that you can answer or ignore the call as you choose.

Some cars have buttons on the steering wheel, much like cruise control buttons, that allow you to manage the call.

While it may be somewhat expensive to retrofit your car to accommodate hands-free cell phone use, the money is certainly worth it if it saves you from having an accident and keeps you from violating the new distracted driving laws.

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Related posts:

  1. California DUI Laws
  2. How Dangerous is Distracted Driving?