Ask The County Law Librarian – Hands-Free Phone Use
Q: I recently was pulled over for using my cell phone while driving. I was not holding it up to my ear. It was lying on my center console in loudspeaker mode. To dial I used speed dial feature for my house. The call was less than a minute. The officer said being on speaker is not hands free. I read an article that claims it is and that although drivers are discouraged from dialing their phone, it is permitted. So I am just trying to clarify how the law actually reads.
A: Thanks for your question. You did not specify if you were a minor or an adult, and this is important since the law is different depending on this factor.
The first law is regarding those 18 years and older is discussed in the California Vehicle Code beginning at section 23123. This law prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle. However, motorists 18 and over may use a hands-free device. The law itself states:
“A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.”
The law doesn’t state that a “device” must be used; it just needs to allow for hands-free listening and talking, and be used in that manner.
The second law is regarding those under the age of 18 and is discussed in the California Vehicle Code beginning at section 23124. This law prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a wireless telephone or a hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle. The law itself states:
“(a) This section applies to a person under the age of 18 years.
(b) Notwithstanding Section 23123, a person described in subdivision (a) shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone, even if equipped with a hands-free device, or while using a mobile service device.”
If the driver is a minor, they may not use a wireless phone at all, even if it is properly equipped with a hands-free device."
Also, here is a quick safety reminder about text messaging. The California Vehicle Code section 23123.5 states that no one can send, write, or read a text message at any time while driving a motor vehicle, regardless of age.
So for the answer to your question, according to a document from the California Highway Patrol that discusses cell phone frequently asked questions, if the driver is over 18, the law allows drivers to use the speaker phone function of the cell phone, as long as the driver is not holding the phone.
If you feel that you were using the phone in the proper manner, you may want to contest your citation. For more information, you may want to look at a book we have here in the law library called, “Fight Your Ticket and Win in California” published by Nolo Press. This book was written to assist average citizens in fighting their ticket, including how to properly prepare for trial. This book is available at the law library.
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email firstname.lastname@example.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.