New cell phone law |

New cell phone law

We’ve all seen them; the housewife backing her SUV out of a parking space, cell phone to her ear, nearly missing other traffic waiting to proceed, or the construction guy in his one-ton truck, speeding down Highway 49 with a cell phone glued to his ear while riding your bumper, or that teen driver, nearly running a stop sign because their attention was on that text message, not the road. Well, lawmakers in Sacramento heard the complaints and, as of July 1 this year, using a wireless or hand-held cell phone while driving is illegal and there is no grace period.

The new law contains two parts; one applies to all drivers and the other is specific to drivers under age 18. Passengers are exempt from the law and it applies to all drivers within the state, residents and non-residents alike.

Drivers over the age of 18 will be allowed to use a hands-free phone while driving, or use Bluetooth and other earpieces, as long as only one ear is covered (so don’t even think about using headphones). If you use a wireless phone, you may use the speaker phone function as well. Dialing a wireless phone is allowed, but discouraged because it distracts you from driving.

While the new law doesn’t specifically prohibit texting while driving, law enforcement officers can stop any driver they believe is driving unsafely due to being distracted and, texting proves to be the reason, a citation could be given.

There are exceptions to the law. You are allowed to use your hand-held cell phone to make an emergency call to police agencies, fire departments, medical providers and other emergency service providers. Those operating emergency vehicles, such as police and ambulance personnel, are exempt, as are people operating vehicles on private property. There is no exemption for phones with a push-to-talk feature; however, commercial truck drivers, including tractor-trailer rig operators, tow truck drivers and farmers with two-way radios are allowed to use the push-to-talk feature without penalty until 2011.

The law is even more strict for under-18 drivers. Minors cannot use a wireless telephone, pager, laptop, or any other electronic communication device (whether handheld or hands-free) to either speak or text while driving, period. There are no exceptions for emancipated minors, no exceptions if adults or parents are driving with the youth, and no exceptions for devices built into the car or for accessories, such as Bluetooth or ear pieces. That means your days of driving and texting or phoning are over, kids. The only exception is if the phone is being used to contact an emergency agency, such as police or the fire department.

The fine for a first offense, including assessed penalties, is $76, regardless of your age. Second offenses will set you back $190. Although a violation is a reportable offense and will appear on your driving record, at present it will not accumulate ‘points’ and should not affect your insurance rates, as many other Vehicle Code violations will do.

Restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving is part of a nationwide trend. Four other states – Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Washington Ð already prohibit the use of handheld cell phones while driving and seventeen others place restrictions on new or young drivers. In addition, Washington and New Jersey do not allow texting at all, regardless of the driver’s age. Some other states will cite drivers for ‘driving while distracted’ if another moving offense occurs, such as speeding. And 15 states have banned the use of cell phones by school bus drivers while passengers are present.

Safety is the motivating factor behind the cell phone/driving laws. As many of us have seen first hand, drivers using cell phones are usually less attentive to their driving, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries to themselves and others. This is especially true of the young or inexperienced driver with little time behind the wheel and a cell phone demanding an immediate response to that special ring tone.

Even NASCAR is getting into the act. Nationwide Insurance, which sponsors the NASCAR Nationwide Series, launched its 2008 Driving While Distracted (DWD) campaign on April 1, 2008. NASCAR drivers have been appearing at high schools across the country to emphasize the message that drivers who multitask while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle place themselves and fellow motorists at risk. Students use a racing simulator to demonstrate the consequences driving while distracted has on their abilities to operate a moving vehicle.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted drivers are responsible for 80% of crashes occurring in the U.S. A 2007 Nationwide Insurance DWD survey of more than 1,000 drivers found that one in three drivers between the ages of 18-27 admit to always multitasking while driving and 37% send text messages while behind the wheel. Nationwide hopes its DWD program will help reduce or eliminate those DWD statistics.

More information about state cell phone laws, including a state-by-state detailed list of the laws and who is affected by them, is available at the Nolo self-help legal website: click on this link Cell Phones and Driving: The Law in Your State.). Your local law enforcement agency, which is responsible for enforcing the new law, can also explain it in detail.

NASCAR Notes: Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally broke a two-year winless streak by winning at Michigan International Speedway. He rode around on fumes under caution, running out of gas just after crossing the finish line.

And congrats to 18 year old phenom Joey Logano, the youngest driver to ever win a Nationwide Series race. Logano took the checkered flag at Kentucky Speedway Saturday in only his third career start; he had to wait until he turned 18 to legally race in NASCAR, an event that occurred just three weeks and three races, ago.

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