California law presently prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communications device “to write, send, or read a text-based communication,” which the Vehicle Code defined as “using an electronic wireless communications device to manually communicate with any person using a text-based communication, including, but not limited to, communications referred to as a text message, instant message, or electronic mail.” California courts, following the language of the legislation, refused to expand the prohibition on cell phone usage while driving beyond emailing, instant messaging, and texting.
California employers, who may be held liable for injuries caused by employees driving for business purposes, should be aware of an expansion of the prohibition on cell phone usage that will take effect on January 1, 2017. The new law now generally prohibits anyone from driving “while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device unless the wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation, and it is used in that manner while driving.” This expansion will now presumably preclude a broad range of cell phone operations while driving, including checking maps and online surfing.
While the penalties for violating the law–$20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense–are not severe, the legislative history is clear that the law is aimed at preventing and reducing deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving. Violations of the law would be admissible in lawsuits. As such, employers should both educate employees who may drive for business purposes on the significant change in the law and take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the new law by employees during such trips.
Thank you for joining us on ClarkTalk! We look forward to seeing you again on this forum. Please note that the views expressed in the above blog post do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to substitute the need for an attorney to represent your interests relating to the subject matter covered by the blog. If you have any questions about the new expansion of the California law relating to cell phone usage while driving that will take effect on January 1, 2017, please feel free to contact David Olson by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephonically at (213) 629-5700.