Cell Phone and Handheld Device Tickets in California
Vehicle Code 23123 and Vehicle Code 23123.5

California Vehicle Code Sections 23123 and 23123.5 provide the laws on a motorist's use of cell phones and handheld devices while driving on California roadways.

There are four important points to know about these sections.

In the article below, our California personal injury attorneys will address:

1. Is talking on a cellphone while driving illegal under California law?

Yes. California Vehicle Code 23123 VC states:

A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.1

This law doesn't apply to passengers. They're free to use cellphones while traveling in a motor vehicle.

Also note that this section applies to adult. Another section -- Vehicle Code 23124 -- makes it illegal for minors to drive while using a cell phone or handheld device. 

1.1 What are the penalties if I talk on a cell phone while driving?

A violation of VC 23123 results in a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.2

Please note the above dollar amounts are the base fines. The actual amount of a ticket will be significantly greater because of fees and assessments.

1.2 Are there exceptions to the basic law?

VC 23123 provides four exceptions to the basic law. The section doesn't apply to:

  1. "a person using a wireless telephone for emergency purposes, including, but not limited to, an emergency call to a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department, or other emergency services agency or entity"3;
  2. "an emergency services professional using a wireless telephone while operating an authorized emergency vehicle"4;
  3. "a person driving a schoolbus or transit vehicle"5; and,
  4. "a person while driving a motor vehicle on private property"6.

2. Is texting while driving illegal in California?

Yes. California Vehicle 23123.5 VC states:

A person shall not drive a motor vehicle 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.7

An "electronic wireless communications device" includes, but is not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, a handheld device or laptop computer, and a pager.8

2.1 What are the penalties if I text while driving in California?

The penalties for violating 23123.5 are a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.9

As with VC 23123, please note the above dollar amounts are the base fines. The actual amount of a ticket will be significantly greater because of fees and assessments.

2.2 Are there exceptions to the basic law?

Vehicle Code 23123.5 provides two exceptions. The section doesn't apply to:

  1. "manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in the vehicle"10; and,
  2. "an emergency services professional using an electronic wireless communications device while operating an authorized emergency vehicle"11

2.3 Can I use a GPS while driving in California?

A driver can operate a mounted GPS while driving, provided that the driver can operate it with the motion of a single swipe or tap of his finger.12

3. Are there legal defenses if accused of violating VC 23123 or VC 23123.5?

There are legal defenses if a motorist is accused of violating VC 23123 or VC 23123.5. It's in the motorist's best interests, though, to consult with an attorney before raising one.

3.1 What are the most common defenses?

There are three common defenses if a person is caught talking on a cellphone or texting while driving in California. These are:

  1. A motorist fits into an exception from the basic law.
  2. The officer was mistaken in that the driver was talking on a cellphone or texting.
  3. The vehicle was not moving.

3.2 Do I need an attorney?

Motorists can represent themselves when fighting a California speeding ticket. But, it's recommended that anyone charged with this violation hire an experienced lawyer to represent them.

It's advantageous to hire an attorney for three main reasons. These are:

  1. Prosecutors tend to offer better deals to defendants with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys are knowledgeable on how to get charge reductions and

dismissals.

3. Defendants with defense lawyers do not have to go to court.

4. Are points assessed for a violation of Vehicle Code 23123 or Vehicle Code 23123.5?

A violation of either VC 23123 or VC 23123.5 will not result in points assessed on the violator's DMV driving record.13

Please note that this is a good thing since points typically result in an increase in the driver's insurance rates for several years.

We must also note that if a person accumulates a certain number of points within a 1-,2- or 3-year period in California, the DMV can declare that person a negligent operator. If this is done, the DMV can suspend or even revoke that person's driving privileges. Either action requires a California DMV hearing.

5. Do I have to attend traffic school if I violate California's cell phone and handheld device laws?

Motorists that violate VC 23123 or VC 23123.5 do not have to attend traffic school.

Drivers, though, can voluntarily choose to do so. Generally, you can go to traffic school if:

  1. You have a valid driver's license;
  2. The offense occurred while driving a noncommercial vehicle; and,
  3. Your ticket is for an infraction that is a moving violation.

If a driver elects to go to traffic school, he must still pay his traffic fine.14

6. Can I ignore a ticket for violating VC 23123 or VC 23123.5?

Two things happen if you ignore a cell phone or handheld device ticket. These are:

  1. You violate a new law, California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, for the failure to appear in court on a traffic citation; and,
  2. You may receive penalties for violating VC 40508.

6.1 What is the violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC?

When you are issued a traffic ticket in California, the officer will have you sign a written promise to appear at the time and place specified.

If you willfully fail to appear as promised, you violate Vehicle Code 40508 VC.15 You willfully fail to appear when you are willingly a no-show. It doesn't matter if you didn't intend to break the law.16

Nor does it matter whether you're guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.17 You violate Vehicle Code 40508 just by breaking a promise to:

  • Appear in court,
  • Appear to pay bail,
  • Pay bail in installments,
  • Pay a fine within the time authorized, or
  • Comply with any condition of the court.18

6.2 What are the penalties for violating Vehicle Code 40508 VC?

Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC is a misdemeanor. The penalties are:

  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.19

7. Is it a crime if I talk on my cell phone or text while driving in California?

It is not a crime if a motorist violates VC 23123 or VC 23123.5.

These violations are infractions under California law and an offender is not subject to incarceration.

8. What is the effect of a cell phone or handheld device ticket on a personal injury lawsuit?

A driver who violates either VC 23123 or VC 23123.5, and thereby causes an accident, may be found negligent in a personal injury lawsuit.

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. In the context of an auto accident, the negligent driver is at fault for the accident and may have to pay for any damages caused.

Proving negligence in a personal injury case is sometimes difficult. In California though, a driver is considered "negligent per se" if he violates a statute.

Negligence “per se” is a legal theory in which negligence is presumed based upon a defendant's violation of a statute or ordinance

This means a driver would be negligent per se if talking on a cellphone or texting while driving since he would be in violation of VC 23123 or VC 23123.5.

Please note, however, that even if a driver is negligent per se, the driver may still be able to recover for any damages he incurs. This is because of California's comparative fault laws.

9. Are there laws related to VC 23123 and VC 23123.5?

Drivers often violate other California traffic laws when they either talk on their cell phone, or text, while driving. Some of the more common offenses include:

  1. Violating a California "speeding law;"
  2. Running a stop sign; and,
  3. Running a red light.

9.1 What are California's "speeding laws?"

"Speeding laws" refers to those California laws that impose penalties on motorists if driving too fast. Some of these include:

Penalties for violating these speeding laws typically include a fine and one point assessed on the motorist's DMV driving record.

As to fines, the exact amount of a speeding ticket will depend on the speed at which the driver was driving. The amount will also include a base fine, fees, and penalty assessments.

If a driver exceeds the speed limit, but wasn't driving more than 100 miles per hour, then the base fine of a ticket will be:

  • $35 if faster than the limit by 1 to 15 miles per hour
  • $70 if faster than the limit by 16 to 25 miles per hour
  • $100 if faster than the limit by 26 miles per hour

9.2 Is it illegal to run a stop sign in California?

California Vehicle Code 22450 VC states that motorists cannot run stop signs.

This means that if a California driver is entering an intersection with a stop sign, he must stop. And, he must stop at the first of the followings:

  • A marked line
  • A crosswalk
  • The approaching street

Complete stops are required. Rolling stops are not permissible under VC 22450. A rolling stop is when a vehicle is still in motion, even at the slightest of speeds.

The penalties for running a stop sign in California include:

  1. A traffic ticket and an approximate fine of $238; and,
  2. One point on the driver's DMV driving record.

9.3 Is it illegal to run a red light in California?

Vehicle Code 21453(a) requires California drivers to stop at red lights.

A violation of this code section typically results in two things. The violator will receive:

1. A traffic ticket of $490-$525; and,

2. One point on his driving record.

Were you accused of talking on your cell phone or texting while driving in California? Call us for help…

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If you or someone you know has been cited for a violation of VC 23123 or VC 23123.5, or has been injured in an accident in California, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm. For cases in Nevada, please see our page on NRS 484B.165 - Nevada law on texting and driving.

  1. California Vehicle Code 2312(a) VC.

  2. California Vehicle Code 23123 (b) VC.

  3. California Vehicle Code 23123 (c) VC.

  4. California Vehicle Code 23123 (d) VC.

  5. California Vehicle Code 23123 (e) VC.

  6. California Vehicle Code 23123 (f) VC.

  7. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (a) VC.

  8. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (f) VC.

  9. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (d) VC.

  10. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (b) VC.

  11. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (e) VC.

  12. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 (c) (1) –(c) (2) VC.

  13. See DMV.org.

  14. See California Courts website.

  15. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  16. CALCRIM 2240, endnote 1: Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.

  17. See same.

  18. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, endnote 1.

  19. California Penal Code 19 PC. Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.

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