New Law Closes Loophole in Hands-Free Driving Rule

SACRAMENTO -- Assembly Bill 1785, going into effect January 1, requires hands-free operation of cell phones while driving. The devices may be touched or swiped once for activation by a driver. But repeated touching of the screen will be illegal.

California's previous hands-free cell phone law has been difficult for officers to enforce because it was written nearly 10 years ago when cell phones were less sophisticated. Tapping the screen for navigation functions while driving was allowed.

Now that most cell phones come with voice-activation, AB 1785 simplifies the law.

"If somebody has the phone in their hand and they're using it, you can give them a ticket," said the bill's author, Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.

In a Tuesday conversation with FOX40, Quirk said getting the bill passed was a challenge, but legislators ultimately agreed it would save lives.

In 2015 alone, 15 fatal collisions and 500 injury collisions were attributed to distracted driving due to hand-held cell phone use, Quirk pointed out.

"And the idea is to save lives and a lot of property damage," he concluded.

The law allows cell phones to be mounted in the far left or far right corner of the windshield, or below the windshield but not blocking an airbag. Devices may not be mounted in the center of the windshield where they may impair the driver's view of the road.

Officers will be looking for any repeated manipulation of cell phones while people are operating a vehicle.

"It definitely takes away from your ability to concentrate on driving," Officer Tommy Riggin of the California Highway Patrol said regarding cell phone use. "Even when you're talking or using it by voice command, you're not 100 percent thinking about what you're doing as far as driving."