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California wireless phone laws take effect July 1

When driving in California, motorhomers had better think twice before using their cellular phones. Unless it’s for emergency purposes or they’re using a hands-free headset.

 

Starting July 1, 2008, California law will prohibit all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while driving. Even if they reside in another state where the practice is allowed.

Motorists over 18 may use a hands-free device. Drivers under 18 may not use a wireless phone or hands-free device.

Exceptions

The new laws, which apply only to the person driving the vehicle, carry fines of $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent infractions. Convictions will appear on the violator’s driving record but will not result in a point on the driver’s license.

Exceptions will be granted to:

  • motorists making 911 calls and emergency response personnel;
  • (until July 1, 2011) drivers of commercial vehicles who use wireless push-to-talk phones; and
  • motorists operating a vehicle on private property.

Using a handheld wireless telephone while driving is considered a “primary” violation, meaning law enforcement officers can stop drivers solely for this infraction.

Advocates and critics

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the wireless phone usage legislation, Senate Bill 1613, on Sept. 15, 2006.

Supporters of the bill said cell phone use is a distraction and can affect driving. They cited data from the California Highway Patrol that indicated cell phones were the leading cause of distracted driving accidents, and that hands-free technology substantially reduced the number of crashes.

Opponents claimed there are many other causes of inattentive driving, such as eating, smoking, drowsiness and adjusting the radio station or CD player. They criticized the ban on using handheld mobile phones for failing to distinguish between inexperienced young drivers and experienced adult drivers.

What about other states?

No federal law bans drivers from using wireless phones while driving, but some states and local jurisdictions have taken action. For example, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C., have enacted statewide bans similar to California’s.

States can enact cell phone laws as primary or secondary. Under secondary laws, an officer must have some other reason to stop a vehicle before citing a driver for using a cell phone. Laws without this restriction, as in California, are called primary.

The use of all cellular phones while driving a school bus is prohibited in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

FMCA has approximately 15,000 member families in California.

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