California’s Toothless Cell Phone Law

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You see them everywhere. Drivers yakking on their handheld cell phones despite a California law that's been on the books for more than six months now that makes it illegal.  So, is anyone getting ticketed? Yes, but unfortunately it's a toothless law.

Drivers who use handheld phones can be pulled over for violating the law. No other reason is needed. The California Highway Patrol has issued over 47,000 tickets since it went effect last July. The Golden Gate Division, which oversees the nine county Bay Area, has written 8,300 of those tickets. It's hard to tell how the law is being enforced in San Francisco because SFPD does not track the number of citations its officers have issued.

As much as I would like to think a cell phoning driver involved in a crash will face consequences, or at the very least be forced to pay a hefty settlement, liability and damages are two different things, according to Greg Brod of the Brod Law Firm.  There would still need to be proof the driver was negligent but a jury could weigh in the fact that a driver was using a handheld in liability cases. Greg blogs about these issues and recently wrote about the new texting ban that took effect this month.

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The National Safety Council just called for a nationwide ban on using a cell phone while driving, either handheld or hands-free, and a law that follows their recommendation could have real safety impacts. Brod said there are school districts all around the country that still don't have a policy preventing school bus drivers from talking on a cell phone or texting while driving.

What makes the California law toothless is that a ticket given for violating the law is not a moving violation, and doesn't go on your driving record as a point.  DUI is a two-point violation, speeding a one-point violation. If it doesn't go on your record your insurance company doesn't know about it, and it doesn't raise insurance rates, according to the Insurance Information Network of California.   It is possible that drivers will pass off the $50 ticket as the cost of doing business.

Flickr photos:  Andrew Ciscel and Jonny Garlic