Say No to Distracted Driving. 2017 Laws to Know About California Driving

Beats Electronics, formerly called Beats by Dre, was founded more than 10 years ago in 2006 as a way to provide a top-of-the-line listening experience in a convenient and fashionable manner. Today, Beats continues to be a popular and prestigious audio company and even helped to develop a new form of wireless headphone technology. These wireless headphones have started influencing users’ everyday lives, especially how they drive. More and more drivers are using wireless headphones while driving, but is this legal?

Headphones and earphones have long been prohibited while driving in California under Vehicle Code section 27400, but where do wireless headphones fall? Legal precedent suggests that driving with wireless earbuds could be legal, just as certain types of hands-free mobile cell phone use is permitted in California for drivers over 18. However in 2015, the Omnibus Transportation Act was signed into law, which clarified this ambiguity.  This new law, which takes effect January 1, 2017, prohibits these wireless earphones — at least in both ears.

[df_blockquote ver=”1″ border_size=”4px” color=”#0F0F0F”][It is] unlawful to wear a headset covering, earplugs in, or earphones covering, resting on, or inserted in, both ears, while operating a motor vehicle or a bicycle.” – State of California DMV[/df_blockquote]

Additional restrictions on cell phone use will take effect starting January 1, 2017.  Previously, the primary emphasis of Vehicle Code section 23123.5 was to prohibit texting when driving.  Now, section 23123.5 is expanded to prohibit “a person from driving a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or a wireless electronic communication device,” unless under specified conditions.

Even holding a cell phone, in addition to using it to take pictures or video, etc., will be prohibited.  The goal of the new law is to prevent distracted driving, according to AB 1785’s author, Assemblyman Bill Quirk of Hayward.

At The Drexler Law Firm, we specialize in personal injury law for automobile accidents, in addition to other types of injury cases.  We have seen, from our past cases, the devastating effects on our clients’ lives resulting from the use of handheld devices contributing to accidents.

When our clients have been struck, they often believe that the person who hit them was “looking down” at something when the impact occurred, presumably a phone.  All too often, motorists are “looking down” at their phones when driving because they are engaging with social media.  Officer Florentino Olivera, of California Highway Patrol’s Santa Ana office, said he thinks many motorists are engaging in social media when driving instead of focusing on the road.  Officer Olivera adds that the majority of drivers who are pulled over aren’t texting, but looking at social media, even in heavy traffic.

“We do see a lot of people,” Olivera said. “You don’t have to be moving, they can be stopped at a light and I can come up on their left or right side and I can see them on the phone either taking pictures or texting.”  (Orange County Register, September 28, 2016)

In California, the number of collisions, some of which are fatal, have skyrocketed because of handheld cellphone use.  In 2015, there were 12 fatal collisions in California involving handheld cellphone, more than 500 injury collisions, and nearly 700 property damage collisions, according to California Highway Patrol statistics.

The new #HandsOff app, available for both iPhones and androids, is a new approach to reminding motorists to disengage from their phone when driving. #HandsOff acts to temporarily disable one’s phone when driving by simply pressing a colored button when entering the vehicle and the pressing the button again upon exiting.

The #HandsOff movement was started by The Milt Olin Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit tax exempt organization, which worked to develop the #Handsoff app. In 2013, a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy was distracted by his mobile digital computer while driving and fatally hit Milton Olin Jr., an entertainment attorney and former Napster executive. Milt’s wife, Louise Olin, started The Milt Olin Foundation to eliminate distracted driving-related fatalities and serious injuries.

The #HandsOff movement seeks to use social media to encourage and reward motorists (targeted toward young adults) for not engaging in distracted driving, and even offers rewards such as concert tickets, VIP experiences and gift cards. It’s next steps are to develop in-app-incentives, sharing tools, automotive integration, and an open-source platform for other social apps to easily incorporate the #HandsOff button.

Distracted driving is an all-too-common cause of traffic collisions in California.  Over the past decade, The Drexler Law Firm has seen a dramatic increase in the number of accidents apparently caused by the use of handheld devices when driving.  Almost 80% of California vehicle crashes involve some sort of driver inattention (California Office of Traffic Safety).

We advocate for all motorists to avoid distracted driving.  Not only is it the law, it will make our streets and highways safer.  So if you want to stay safe and avoid a collision, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Don’t talk on the phone;
  • Don’t text and drive;
  • Turn off your phone when you get behind the wheel;
  • Don’t text or call someone when you know they are likely to be driving;
  • Make a pact with your family, spouse, and caregivers never to use the phone with kids in the car;
  • No eating or drinking while driving;
  • Don’t program your GPS, MP3 player or other devices while driving;
  • No grooming;
  • No watching videos or reading;
  • If something falls to the floor, pull over before trying to reach it; and
  • Pull over and stop to read maps.

Nevertheless accidents can be unavoidable, so if you do find yourself in a collision, make sure to also see our blog entitled: “You’ve Been in a Car Accident. What Your Lawyer Wants You To Do Next


The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction.  This blog is not intended to, and does not, create an attorney client relationship, an offer of employment or a guarantee of success for clients of The Drexler Law firm.  No information or representation contained in this post should be construed as an offer of employment, guarantee of success or the creation of an attorney client relationship with The Drexler Law firm, nor as legal advice from The Drexler Law Firm or the individual author.  No reader of this post should act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer in the corresponding jurisdiction.

There are time deadlines during which a case must be brought, according to your jurisdiction or state, and failing to abide by the jurisdictional statute of limitation rules can result in your case being time-barred.

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