July 1, 2008 has arrived and the new cell phone laws in California are now in effect. It is now against the law to use a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle. A friend recently asked me if it would be considered a violation of the law to dial a telephone while driving, even though he planned to talk on the phone through a hands free device. His question raised an interesting point. California Vehicle Code Section 23123, which states the law, is silent on the issue of dialing.
The law specifically prohibits the use of a wireless phone that doesn’t allow for hands-free talking and listening. The point of the law is to reduce the significant number of motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted driving, which I discussed in a previous blog entry, California Cell Phones While Driving – New Laws. The new laws are not intended to tell drivers everything they should and should not do while driving a motor vehicle. I have personally seen drivers in the Bay Area eating food, applying makeup, and even reading the newspaper while driving. I am not aware of any laws that specifically prohibit a driver from eating a sandwich while on the highway, for example, but if it happened frequently enough, and traffic collisions were caused as a result, you could expect a law to address that conduct, as well. It does not appear that dialing your hands-free telephone while driving is against the law, but as with anything you do while operating a car, you have to be smart, cautious and keep your eyes on the road.