Hands Off Phones While Driving, Effective January 1, 2017

By Styskal, Wiese & Melchione

Drivers in California should add a New Year’s resolution to their list to refrain from holding and operating their cell phones while driving. Effective January 1, 2017, a new distracted driving law will prohibit California motorists from not only operating, but even holding, a handheld wireless telephone or electronic communications device while driving, unless the device is mounted on the windshield, dashboard or center console of the vehicle. Under Assembly Bill 1785, a motorist can only use his or her hand to activate or deactivate a feature or function on the device that requires a single swipe or tap. The legislation marks a change from existing law, which prohibits motor vehicle operators from using a wireless electronic device to write, send or read a text-based communication, except through voice-operated and hands-free features. AB 1785 does not apply to systems that are installed by manufacturers and embedded in the vehicle. Other new traffic laws to be aware of in California include the legalization of lane splitting for motorcyclists (the practice of driving between rows of vehicles) and the increase of the minimum threshold for property damage for reporting collisions to the California Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days ($1,000 or more in damage, up from $750).

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