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Distracted driving charges in California

Many California residents would feel helpless without their smartphones, but using them while driving could lead to an accident as well as a ticket. Distracted driving is doing anything behind the wheel that takes attention away from the road ahead, and it is becoming an increasingly serious problem as technology becomes ever more pervasive. While most people associate distracted driving with using a cellphone while behind the wheel, motorists could also be cited for failing to pay due care and attention if a police officer sees them eating, putting on makeup or reading.

In addition to a general distracted driving ban, California has a law that specifically prohibits the use of electronic devices while driving a motor vehicle. The cellphone and texting ban in California is also a primary enforcement law, which means that a police officer can cite a motorist for violating it even if no other violation is observed.

The criminal penalties in California for violating the cellphone and texting law is a $20 fine, which increases to $50 for second and subsequent violations, but the civil costs may be far higher. Admitting to being distracted can be used by personal injury attorneys to establish liability in a civil lawsuit, and defendants in such cases face the possibility of being ordered to pay heavy damages.

Being charges with minor misdemeanors or traffic violations can lead to fines and the suspension of driving privileges, and the data collected by cellphone service providers could make it difficult to deny that an electronic device was in use at a certain time. However, criminal defense attorneys may still seek to have penalties reduced by pointing out mitigating factors to prosecutors during plea negotiations. Such mitigating factors could include the defendant’s genuine remorse and prior good behavior.

Source: Governor’s Highway Safety Association, “California”, accessed on Dec. 8, 2015

Source: Findlaw, “California Vehicle Code Section 23123.5”, accessed on Dec. 8, 2015

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John Patrick Ryan has been practicing law for over 20 years. Experienced in criminal law. U.S. Navy Veteran.