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California 2021 Traffic LawsAt the start of 2021, California kicked off the new year by enacting some important new traffic safety laws that aim to tackle distracted driving and driving while using a cell phone. By implementing new regulations, the state of California hopes to decrease the number of accidents or crashes caused by negligent drivers and increase the overall safety of its roadways. 

Of course, it’s common sense that driving while using a cellphone is dangerous and significantly increases a driver’s chances of getting into an accident. However, recent changes to California traffic laws have added additional legal ramifications for individuals who are caught using a cell phone while operating a vehicle, as well as some other traffic safety laws. 


What Are The New California Traffic Laws For Cell Phone Usage?

To date, California has several different laws that ban the use of a cellular device while operating a vehicle. Currently, it’s illegal in the state of California for any driver to use a handheld cell phone, and drivers under the age of 18 cannot use any cellular device at all while driving, including hands-free options. Additionally, it’s illegal in the state of California to text or use any other type of wireless device while behind the wheel.

Of course, laws banning some or all use of cellular devices while driving are common in most states. This is primarily due to overwhelming evidence that suggests using a cellphone while operating a vehicle is a serious distraction and greatly increases the risk of an accident occurring. In fact, there is data available that shows that using a cellphone while behind the wheel reduces the amount of brain activity dedicated to driving by 37%. 

As of right now, using a cellphone while driving is a punishable offense that’s usually reprimanded with a fine. However, starting July 1st, 2021, California will initiate a points system for repeat offenders. 

If a driver over the age of 18 is caught violating the hands-free law twice within a 36 month period, they will have a point added to their driver’s license. This law is applicable to any adult caught violating the hands-free law by talking on a handheld cell phone or texting while behind the wheel. It’s also applicable for those under the age of 18 who are caught using any type of device while driving. 


Exceptions To The Law

This law does not affect vehicle passengers, who are still free to use their cellphones inside the vehicle provided they aren’t the ones in the driver’s seat. Of course, ignorance of the law will not be an excuse, as the law does apply to non-resident drivers who are caught violating the hands-free rules while operating a vehicle in California, regardless of where they live. 

The law itself is pretty cut and dry, but there are a few exceptions that should be noted. Firstly, a handheld cellphone may be used in case of an emergency, such as when the user is attempting to contact emergency services such as an ambulance, law enforcement, or fire department. Furthermore, handheld cell phones can be used without consequence by anyone who is operating an emergency vehicle, as well as by drivers who are on private property.


How Do Fines and Points Work?

When a driver is caught behind the wheel using a handheld cellphone, their first offense will result in a fine. The fine amount for a first infraction is typically $20. Further offenses will result in a $50 fine. As of July 1st, 2021, second and subsequent offenses will also result in a point being added to the offender’s driver’s license. In California, the accumulation of points on a driver’s license can cause insurance premiums to skyrocket and can, eventually, lead to a loss of driving privileges. 

Furthermore, cell phone laws in California are enforceable by the police as a primary infraction. This means if you are seen driving while using a handheld device you can be pulled over for that infraction alone. However, for those under the age of 18, the hands-free device ban is listed as a secondary infraction. By law, an officer cannot pull an individual under the age of 18 over for using a hands-free device, but they can cite you for it if you are pulled over for any other offense. 


What Devices Does The Law Cover?

For adults over the age of 18, the law refers to any and all handheld cell phone devices, but Bluetooth devices or earpieces are legal to use. However, if earpieces or headphones are used, they cannot cover both ears. The speakerphone function is also permissible. 

For those under the age of 18, banned devices include:

  • Cellphones
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Pagers
  • Any other form of electronic communication

Of course, for all drivers, texting while operating a vehicle remains illegal. No driver may use a cellphone or any other type of wireless device to text while behind the wheel. There are two notable exceptions to this law. Firstly, it is legal to use an embedded system that is installed into the vehicle itself, such as a GPS system. It is also legal for emergency service vehicle operators to use a wireless device while driving. 


Other New Traffic Laws For 2021

The new points system for using a cellphone while driving isn’t the only change to California traffic law this year. There have also been a few other notable traffic safety laws implemented in 2021. These include:

  • Amendments to the “Move Over, Slow Down” law – Up until January 1st, 2021, the “Move Over, Slow Down” law was applicable only on highways and freeways. In California, this law requires drivers to move over one lane or slow down significantly when approaching a stationary emergency vehicle. Now, this law is also applicable on local streets and neighborhood roads.
  • Emergency Vehicle Warning Sound – A new law that went into effect as of September 29th, 2020 enables emergency vehicles to use a distinctive warning siren to notify the need for immediate evacuation. 
  • Unattended Children – Effective as of January 1st, 2021, civilians who trespass or damage a vehicle in order to rescue a child cannot be held liable. The child must be under the age of 6 years old and considered to be in immediate danger, such as danger caused by extreme temperatures or lack of ventilation. 


Contact an Experienced Orange County Personal Injury Attorney

For anyone who has been injured in a distracted driving accident, it’s important to immediately contact a professional personal injury attorney.  The Orange County personal injury lawyers at the Law Offices of Samer Habbas & Associates can then help determine if you have a valid auto injury claim. With multiple offices located in Irvine, Los Angeles, El Segundo, San Diego, and Riverside, our car accident injury lawyers represent accident victims across Southern California. For more information or to schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our attorneys, please call 888-848-5084.

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Samer Habbas is a California attorney with over 18 years of experience in personal injury law. Throughout his career, he has successfully recovered over $300 million for his clients, solidifying his reputation as a leading advocate in the field.

Samer swiftly gained recognition for his adept negotiation skills and unwavering dedication to his clients. His practice spans a wide range of personal injury cases, including car accidents, dog bites, funeral home abuse, premises liability, and wrongful death.

Samer is known for his compassionate approach and commitment to securing favorable outcomes for his clients. His expertise has earned him the trust and respect of both his clients and his peers within the legal community. He is also deeply invested in giving back to his community. He actively participates in pro bono work and volunteers his time to various charitable organizations. Samer is a champion for those who have been wronged, leveraging his extensive experience and expertise to make a meaningful difference in the lives of his clients and his community.