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Loopholes in the 2009 California Driving Laws

driver on cell phoneAs of January 1, 2009, California put into effect a new law that forbids texting while driving. Any driver caught texting while driving incurs a fine of $20 for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. Furthermore, these fines often incur additional expenses such as court costs and program fees. These expenses are just a small fraction of the total expenses for being at-fault for an accident due to texting while driving.

Though refraining from texting may seem straightforward, this “No Texting Law” is actually far more complicated than at first sight. For instance, what do you do if you were pulled over for texting when all you did was push the “send” button? Or, are you still breaking the law if you text a company rather than a person? Is it really illegal to text while you’re in the middle of that never-ending California traffic?

For the first question, the answer is “yes.” You will be cited for breaking the “No Texting Law” if all you did was press the “send” button for texting another person. You will also be cited if you text using a touch-screen interface, such as an iPhone. You may think it is over-the-top to cite a person for $20-$50 for pushing one button on a phone, but truthfully, fatal accidents have been caused by simply picking up a cell phone. This “no send” provision also holds true for sending e-mails or instant messages through your PDA.

If you’re browsing the web while driving, you’re also breaking the law. Even if you are in the middle of traffic or stopped at a red light, it makes no difference. You will also be breaking the law if you have a video or digital screen in any part of your car where you can see it. In contrast, you will not be breaking the law for video monitors that are in the back of the driver’s seat. The rule of thumb is that any device that draws a driver’s attention away from the road is subject to the “No Texting Law.”

You may wonder why you would be breaking the law if you text while you are completely stopped in traffic or at a red light. Technically, if your car is not parked, you are still in control of the vehicle and need to keep alert in case you need to defend yourself. For instance, if you are stopped in traffic and are texting, you may not notice when traffic is clearing ahead of you. This will get the attention of nearby police officers and you will be stopped by them. Nonetheless, if you are fully parked in a safe and legal parking spot, you are free to text as much as you want. Note that a safe and legal parking spot does not apply to parking your car in the middle of traffic, no matter how slowly it may be moving.

With all these restrictions, you may be wondering if there are loopholes. Actually, the “No Texting Law” does permit people to type in GPS information on either a GPS device or on a GPS feature in their wireless phones. This begs the question, if I typed in information into my GPS feature while driving and was pulled over for it, how can I prove to the officer that I wasn’t texting? In reality, you can’t. It is much wiser for you to get a separate GPS device into which you program your destination information before you ever start your car. If you need to change the information, park in a safe and legal spot before you do it. As much of a hassle as this may seem, you will thank yourself later for not incurring hefty fines that were caused by one push of a button.

The texting law also permits you to text businesses. In fact, if you are texting a company or website, you are not breaking the “No Texting Law” because you are not communicating with another “person.” However, this activity is strongly discouraged because it would be difficult for you to prove your non-violation of the law to a police officer. California police officers take a dim view of any texting while driving. If you protest you were texting a business and not a person, you may still not be able to escape charges. Do you really want to take the trouble of hiring lawyers and paying court costs just to rid yourself of these charges? Especially when all you had to do to avert them was have found a safe place to park and sent the text?

Nonetheless, the “No Texting Law” also allows you to use wireless devices as long as they are completely hands-free. For instance, if you have Bluetooth technology in your vehicle, you are safe from this law since you are using voice activation to perform your calls. You can even manually dial the phone number to reach the person, as long as you use voice-activation from that point forward. Naturally, when you use voice activation, you must keep both hands on the steering wheel and your eyes on the road.

If you operate a motorcycle, you are still subject to the jurisdiction of the “No Texting Law”, because your vehicle is motor-powered. However, if you ride a bicycle, you are exempt from these regulations since bicycles are not motor-powered. Nonetheless, it is unwise for you to believe you will not be detained by police if you text while biking on the road.

The above provisions of California’s “No Texting Law” may seem counterintuitive at times, but they follow basic guidelines. Basically, you are prohibited from doing any texting function unless you are legally and safely parked. Furthermore, if you are using voice-activation technology, you can manually dial the number but perform the call itself hands-free. Yet, a safer general rule is that you don’t do any manual operation on any wireless device until you are safely parked.

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