California Distracted Driving Laws

California Distracted Driving Laws

Does California have laws concerning distracted driving?

And if so, what are those laws?

What are the penalties for breaking distracted driving laws in California?

We’re going to answer all those questions and more in this article. 

By the end of this, you’ll know everything you need to know about California distracted driving laws. 

Plus, we’ll give you some tips on how to avoid distracted driving. 

So shall we? 

What Is Distracted Driving?

But first…

What exactly is distracted driving? 

Well, talking to your passengers while in moving traffic already counts as distracted driving. 

You read that right!

Here are the 3 main distractions while driving according to the CDC:

  • Cognitive 
  • Manual
  • Visual 

Cognitive distraction is also known as mental distraction. This is when your mind is off the road. Examples of cognitive distractions include listening to a podcast, talking to passengers, daydreaming, texting, etc.

Manual distraction is when your hands are off the wheel. Examples of these are eating or drinking, reaching for items, putting makeup on, texting, etc. 

Visual distraction happens when your eyes are off the road. Examples of visual distractions include staring at a billboard, looking at the backseat unnecessarily, texting, etc.

Did you notice that there was one repeating example?

Texting is one of the most dangerous forms of distraction because it takes away your mental, manual, and visual focus.

Distracted Driving Laws in California

Sure, there are many forms of distracted driving. 

But in California, there are strict regulations when it comes to mobile phone usage. Let’s have a look at them.

California Cellphone Laws

Under California Vehicle Code 23123, it is illegal to use your handheld phone while driving

Naturally, this means no texting, browsing, or even calling on the phone. 

That said, you can install a hands-free system — like a phone mount — to make way for necessary phone use.

However, you may use your phone behind the wheel only if both conditions are met:

  • Mount placement does not hinder driver vision on the road
  • Phone usage only requires swift tapping or swiping motions

If you are under 18 years old, you are NOT allowed to even use a hands-free system.

Now, these laws apply when you are on public roads. But once you drive onto private property, or you find yourself in an emergency situation, you are legally permitted to use your device handheld. 

Also, emergency services professionals are exempt from violations of the code if they behave in line with their scope of work.

Additional California Distracted Driving Laws

The AB1785, or Assembly Bill 1785, is an addition to the existing cellphone law. 

Under this bill, the law specifies additional devices that are illegal to use while driving. These include specialized mobile radio devices and two-way messaging devices. 

Penalties for Distracted Driving in California

Most of the time, distracted driving is a primary law in California. 

This means that, even if you are in complete control of your vehicle, you can get pulled over by a law enforcer if they see you using your handheld device. 

Getting caught will result in an infraction.

The old penalty rates for a distracted driving ticket violation used to be $25 for the first offense and $50 for the subsequent ones.

But with Assembly Bill 47 signed and implemented in 2021, fines have significantly gone up. Now, you will have to face $162 of fines, plus penalty assessment fees.

Authorities believe that increasing the penalty will teach California drivers to be more cautious about this law. In turn, it will help them be more attentive on the road. 

California’s Efforts to Reduce Distracted Driving 

Aside from increasing ticket fees, there have been state and federal efforts that discourage texting while driving. 

One of these is the NHTSA’s campaign, ‘U Drive. U Text. U Pay’.

This is a high-visibility enforcement strategy that hopes to discourage distracted driving by installing more patrols on public roads. 

The campaign also provides social media material to promote awareness of the movement.

Another enforcement, such as the Graduated Licensing Program, is a more positive strategy. 

This program imposes license restrictions on teen drivers. As they go through the license stages, they will be able to unlock the restrictions. 

This is an effective way to help them learn that they can drive without having to reach out for their phones. 

Dangers of Distracted Driving

There is no denying that texting while driving distracts you from the task at hand. 

But the question is –  just how dangerous is it?

A 2020 NHTSA report claims that 3,142 drivers have lost their lives due to distracted driving crashes. 

As for injuries, approximately 1,000 people are injured each day because of distracted driving. 

You don’t want to add to those numbers. 

In fact, according to a 2006 study from the National Library of Medicine:

“The impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk.”

If DUI is a big NO for you, then texting while driving should also be a big NO. 

How to Avoid Distracted Driving

Sure, distracted driving laws in California only involve cellphone usage. 

However,  it’s still wise to avoid all types of distractions – cognitive, manual, or visual. 

To help you avoid being distracted while driving, here are some useful tips: 

  • Finish getting ready at home to avoid cramming your grooming routine behind the wheel
  • If you have kids sitting in the backseat, keep them occupied and entertained (ex: toys, iPad)
  • Even when at a stoplight, refrain from compulsively checking your phone. It’s never okay to build a seemingly harmless habit
  • Avoid smoking or vaping
  • Plan your route ahead
  • Eating and drinking can wait 
  • Don’t turn up your music volume to the highest 


Distracted driving is all too common — you’ve probably been guilty of it, too. 

But this is when that should stop. 

Again, you don’t want to add to the number of injuries and deaths. 

Now that you know California distracted driving laws, it’s best to comply with them. Not just so you don’t have to pay some fines, but to keep everyone on the road safe. 

So as much as possible, make it a habit to be mindful while driving.

And never get too complacent!

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