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California OKs Hands-Free Texting for Drivers

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on July 17, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California's new hands-free texting law will soon let drivers send text messages from behind the wheel. But some are calling the bill's restrictions a bit confusing.

Under the new law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday, drivers will be allowed to dictate text messages to a cell phone, but only via a voice-activated device like a headset or a car's built-in Bluetooth connection, the Associated Press reports. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

However, drivers who try to dictate texts directly into their cell phones (like via the Apple iPhone's Siri voice-recognition software, which requires a button to be pressed) may still face fines.

In addition to the iPhone's Siri, a few other common methods of cell-phone use will remain out of reach for drivers, even under California's new hands-free texting law.

According to the California Highway Patrol, drivers still will not be able to:

  • Use a hand to simply turn on a cell phone.
  • Use a hand to select a hands-free texting app on a cell phone, or to touch any other buttons or icons.
  • Read a text message or check directions directly from a cell phone's screen.

"Hands-free is the key," a CHP spokeswoman told the AP. "The phone can't be in your hands."

If caught, a driver who violates the law could get a ticket and face a fine of $20 for the first offense or $50 for each subsequent offense. With state and local fees added in, the total price for an infraction could be well over $100.

California's hands-free texting law follows another state law that barred the use hand-held cell phones while driving. Since that law took effect in July 2008, deaths blamed on hand-held cell phone use in California have dropped by 47%, the AP reports.

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