California's Driving Laws on Cell Phones, Talking & Texting

Driving while using your cell phone is a violation of the California Vehicle Code (VC). Distracted driving is never worth it. A split-second decision could result in expensive tickets and vehicle damage or even the loss of life.  

What Does the Law in California Say?

Cell phone driving laws in California prohibit all drivers from using a cellphone while driving unless it is a hands-free device. The only time that drivers are allowed to use a cell phone while driving is when a driver needs to make an emergency call to:

  • Law enforcement
  • A medical provider
  • The fire department
  • Other emergency services agencies

23123.5 (a) VC states that you are not allowed to drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device unless the device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operations and is used in that manner while driving. 

Additionally, cell phone driving laws in California prohibit any driver under the age of 18 from using a cell phone for any reason. School bus drivers are also prohibited from using a cell phone, even in a hands-free form.

Distracted driving can affect a potential personal injury lawsuit. If one driver is violating a statute (like texting or talking while driving), it becomes negligence per se. This means that you can be presumed negligent by the court because you were willingly violating the law when the accident occurred. 

If you are deemed negligent, you may be required to pay for someone else’s damages, and you will forfeit any right to collect damages yourself for a personal injury lawsuit.


Dialing, talking, or texting is so dangerous that it has been shown to increase the risk of getting into a crash by three times. Studies have also shown that the youngest and most inexperienced drivers are most at risk when driving distracted. 

Moreover, drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision if they text while driving. According to recent studies, it takes the average person 4.6 seconds just to read or send a text message. 

In other words, a mere three seconds of texting while driving at 65 mph is the equivalent of driving 100 yards — the length of a full football field — while blindfolded. 

Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported that cell phones are some of the most dangerous distracted driving hazards because they combine the three main types of distraction:

  • Visual distraction: something that takes your eyes off the road
  • Manual distraction: something that takes your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive distraction: something that takes your mind off the important task of driving

Distracted driving is just as, if not more, dangerous than drunk driving. An estimated nine people are killed and more than 1,000 people are injured each day due to crashes involving distracted drivers. 

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is an umbrella term that covers many different behaviors. All functions of a phone can be distracting, including:

  • Using an app
  • Shuffling through music
  • Watching videos
  • Looking at social media 
  • Typing website URLs
  • Checking email
  • Viewing maps or photos 
  • Texting or talking on the phone

Cell phone use, particularly talking or texting while driving, is the most common form of distracted driving. 

Texting or Talking While Driving

Cell phone driving laws in California state that texting or talking while driving will cost you at least $162 for your first citation if you are not using a hands-free method to talk. The fine amount increases with each violation. A second or subsequent offense can cost over $250.

If you ignore a mobile device ticket, you can be found guilty of failure to appear in court on a traffic citation. That can result in up to six months in county jail or a hefty fine of up to $1,000.

Unlawful cellphone use is currently a zero-point traffic violation. Generally, a ticket shouldn’t affect a motorist’s insurance rates. However, the DMV will assess one point if the violation occurs within 36 months of a prior conviction.

Additionally, cell phone driving laws in California consider distracted driving violations to be primary offenses. This means that a police officer is allowed to pull you over for a violation if you are caught texting or talking while driving.


Cell phone driving laws in California that ban cellphone use while driving do not apply when a motorist uses a cellphone while driving on private property or places a call for emergency purposes (such as calling for an ambulance or other emergency services).

Additionally, emergency service professionals are exempt from the cellphone ban as long as they are operating an authorized emergency vehicle.

Under California law, you may be permitted to use a mounted GPS while driving, as long as you can operate it with a single finger swipe or tap.

Just Don’t Do It

The cell phone driving laws in California are clear: a driver has a duty to operate a motor vehicle safely. 

Remember that driving is a privilege and not a right. That privilege can easily be taken away from you because the task of driving requires your full attention and focus. 

You should exercise full caution when driving at all times and resist the temptation to participate in any activity involving your cell phone that takes your eyes and attention off the road.

The California Highway Patrol encourages all drivers to put their cell phones out of reach while driving. By reducing or eliminating distractions, your risk of being involved in a collision or potentially losing your life decreases significantly. 

Since 1992, our personal injury attorneys at the Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, LLP. have been fighting for the people of San Diego. Now, when those injured in automobile accidents – including cartruck, and motorcycle accidents – need financial help, or for the families that need to know that the loss of a loved one could have been prevented, there is a personal injury law firm in San Diego that is on their side. If you or a family member has been injured, call the lawyers at Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, LLP. There’s never been a better time than right now to speak to a personal injury attorney—FREE of charge. Call us at 858-551-2090 or request a free consultation online today!