California’s Toothless Cell Phone Law


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.


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

  • The California cell phone law allows motorists to talk while driving if you are using an ear piece or some kind of hands free device. The research has shown that its not the act of putting the phone to your head, but rather the distraction in your brain that makes people talking on their cellphones dangerous drivers. Thus, even if this law is enforced heavily, the only likely impact will be that people will rush out to buy hands free devices for their phones.

  • I saw a Central Station police this morning, driving and talking. About 8AM southbound on Columbus. The things you see when you don’t have a camera…

  • These people should be made to pay a fine and then sent to the most boring traffic schools and should definately not be given the option of online traffic schools ! What most people don’t realize is that talking on your phone can be as dangerous as overspeeding, not only are you risking your own life but also that of others.

  • I agree with you, Abby. They should be sent to most boring traffic schools after issuing tickets. That will definitely make them safe drivers.


  • Anonymous

    I think the law should be repealed. It is a knee-jerk reaction which will NOT improve safety one iota, given the sheer number of distractions out there which are NOT penalized. It WILL put money into the state coffers and thus is really a tax. The resentment I feel at being misled by the legislature and the courts is great. I would prefer to pay taxes honestly set forth as such, than to receive a $20 citation and have “court fees” jack it up to $140 or more.

  • Evad the Slayer

    I ride a bicycle all over as my main means of getting around. How on earth can cops enforce any driving law when they insist on getting into their patrol cars and zooming everwhere? Ya have to STOP and LOOK for a change. I see cops on motorcycles BLAST away from stop signs and red lights. ZIPPING along at illegal speeds and moving into the fast lane asap. Gonna see nothin doing that boys. Get out, stand at any busy intersection (as I am forced to do) and watch: expired tags (some 2 years!!!), red light runners, cell phone and texting drivers. My eyes tell me that the young drivers are the worse violators. I regularly see US Postal vehicles with drivers yacking away!! Incredible, but what can one expect in a nation that is eating itself to death; cannot get off the friggin phone, won’t walk 1/4 mile to a store and HAS to HAVE Hummers, and 4 ton SUV’s and trucks.

  • i agree with my above mate..!

  • James Nikon

     The use of cell phones while in the car is not permitted for our own safety. As law abiding citizens its not that hard to follow the law. For me, violators should be given due penalty for not following such law.


Obama Bans Texting While Driving for Guv Workers — And There’s More

The U.S. DOT’s distracted driving summit came to a close today with the unveiling of an executive order from President Obama that prohibits federal employees from texting behind the wheel of a government car or using a government-provided messaging device while driving any vehicle. (Photo: In addition, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced plans for […]