California has had laws on the books for quite some time now concerning cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle. But the wide functionality of new mobile devices is creating some problems with enforcement for the state’s police force. With many other states creating similar legislation, it is important to know what law enforcement is doing regarding everyday mobile device use by drivers.
"When you look for loopholes, the whole issue of cell phone use, texting or distracted driving becomes confusing, if not overwhelming," California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Creel said.
For example, it's legal to read, select and enter a phone number while driving - as long as you put the phone down before talking. But you can't send a text while sitting at a red light. Some officers say it's OK to play some music from your phone if it's done quickly. But most - though not all - say using the phone's GPS function is not legal if the phone is held in the hand.
"Hands-free means hands-free," said Ontario police Detective Diane Galindo. "You cannot have the phone in your hands, period."
Fines and fees for cellphone use behind the wheel now run to $159 and would increase to more than $300 under proposed legislation.
"We can't issue a citation to someone who is downloading music to an iPod or downloading information on their GPS, but if someone is distracted when they're using their hand-held devices and swerving side to side, we can issue a citation," Lopez said.
Yet punching in a phone number to make a call - which takes more concentration than a brief phone conversation - is legal.
Galindo said the California Vehicle Code is full of rules regarding driver distractions.
"If you were to look through a vehicle code book, there are so many different sections that cover impeding the drivers' ability to drive safely," she said.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Padilla and re-used under the Creative Commons license.