Cell Phone Tickets for Minors in California
(Vehicle Code 23124)

California Vehicle Code 23124 VC prohibits minors, or persons under the age of 18, from using a cell phone or a handheld electronic device while driving. This includes talking on the phone, texting and typing. 

There are four important points to know about Vehicle Code 23124.

  • The only exception to the law is when a minor must use a cell phone or electric device because of an emergency.
  • A fine for a violation can range from $20.00 to $50.00, plus court costs and assessments.
  • There are legal defenses available. This means minors can challenge a ticket for using a cell phone or device while driving. However, it's best if a minor, or his parent or guardian, get the help from an attorney if fighting a ticket.
  • A minor cannot disregard tickets for violating Vehicle Code 23124 VC. If a minor ignores a ticket, he could get charged with a new law, failure to appear, per California Vehicle Code 40508. Failure to appear may be charged as a misdemeanor.

Our California personal injury attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

person driving while using smartphone california legal defense
California Vehicle Code 23124 VC prohibits minors, or persons under the age of 18, from using a cell phone or an electronic device while driving

1. Vehicle Code 23124 VC – the law on a minor's use of cell phones and devices while driving

California Vehicle Code 23124 VC specifically applies to persons under the age of 18.1 For laws on adult use of cell phones and devices while driving, please see our page on Vehicle Code 23123 and Vehicle Code 23123.5.

Vehicle Code 23124 does three things. These are:

  1. Provides the basic law on a minor's use of a cell phone and device while driving;
  2. Limits when officers may stop minors for a VC 23124 violation; and,
  3. Gives an exception to the basic law.

1.1 Minors in California cannot use cell phones and devices while driving

VC 23124 (b) states:

[persons under the age of 18] shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device, even if equipped with a hands-free device.2

"Electronic wireless communications device" includes, but is not limited to, a broadband personal communication device, specialized mobile radio device, handheld device or laptop computer with mobile data access, pager, and two-way messaging device.3

1.2 Officers limited in when they can stop a minor for a VC 23124 violation

According to Vehicle Code 23124 (d):

A law enforcement officer shall not stop a vehicle for the sole purpose of determining whether the driver is violating subdivision (b).4

This means an officer can only stop a minor if the officer observes the minor using a cell phone or wireless device. The officer cannot stop a minor for the purpose of trying to verify, or conclude, that a minor is using a cell phone or device.

1.3 Exceptions to the law

Vehicle Code 23124 (f) provides an emergency exception to the basic law on a minor's use of cell phones and devices while driving. VC 23124 (f) states:

This section does not apply to a person using a wireless telephone or a mobile service device 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.

minor receiving ticket from police officer california legal defense
The penalty for violating VC 23124 is a base fine of $20.00 for a first offense and $50.00 for each offense thereafter.

2. The cost of a cell phone ticket for minors

The penalty for violating VC 23124 is a base fine of $20.00 for a first offense and $50.00 for each offense thereafter.5

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

3. Points on the minor's DMV driving record

There are typically two penalties for drivers that receive a traffic ticket. These are: (1) a fine; and, (2) points are put on the driver's driving record.

However, a violation of Vehicle Code 23124 does not result in points assessed on a minor's DMV driving record.6 This is a good thing since points typically result in an increase in a driver's insurance rates for several years.

We must also note that a problem arises when a driver accumulates too many points on his driving record. If a motorist 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.

4. Legal defenses for minors that violate Vehicle Code 23124 VC

Minors that receive a cell phone ticket in California can challenge the ticket and plead not guilty. If this happens, the minor must raise a legal defense on his behalf. If this is done, though, it's best for the minor, or his parent or guardian, to consult with an attorney.

4.1 Common defenses to a cell phone ticket for a minor

There are five common defenses for violating Vehicle Code 23124. These are:

  1. The driver was age 18 or over;
  2. There was an emergency, as stated in Vehicle Code 23124 (f);
  3. The officer was not authorized to stop the minor, pursuant to Vehicle Code 23124 (d).
  4. The officer was mistaken (i.e., the minor was not using a cell phone or device); and,
  5. The vehicle was not moving.

4.2 Contact an attorney for help

Drivers – both minors and adults – can challenge traffic tickets in California. But, it's recommended that minors consult with an attorney if they chose to contest a cell phone ticket.

There are three main reasons why lawyers are critical when it comes to challenging a ticket. These include:

  1. Prosecutors normally give better deals to drivers with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys know how to get charge reductions and dismissals.
  3. A driver represented by a lawyer does not have to go to court. The motorist's attorney can go on his behalf.
empty traffic school classroom california legal defense
Minors that receive a ticket for using a cell phone or device while driving do not have to attend traffic school.

5. Violations of VC 23124 and traffic school

Minors that receive a ticket for using a cell phone or device while driving do not have to attend traffic school.

However, drivers that violate Vehicle Code 23124 can voluntarily choose to do so. This is provided they meet three criteria. These are:

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

If a driver chooses to attend traffic school, he still must pay his fine.7

6. Violations of Vehicle Code 23124 and criminal charges

There are no criminal charges for violations of VC 23124. This is because it's not a crime in California if a minor uses a cell phone or device while driving.

Violations of Vehicle Code 23124 VC are infractions under California law; and, violators are not subject to incarceration or other criminal penalties.

7. Ignoring a ticket for violating Vehicle Code 23124 VC

Minors should not ignore a ticket for using a cell phone or device while driving. Ignoring a ticket will result in two things. These are:

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

7.1 Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC

Upon receiving a traffic ticket in California, a driver is obligated to sign a written promise to appear in court.

If the driver willfully fails to appear as promised in writing, he violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC.8 The driver willfully fails to appear when he is a no-show. Further, it is not a defense if the driver did not intend to break the law.9

It also does not matter whether the driver is guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.10 He violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC 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.11

7.2 Penalties for violating VC 40508

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 $1,000.12
california judge negligence california legal defense
A driver that violates Vehicle Code 23124 may cause – or get involved in – an accident with another motorist. If the motorist later files a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, the driver may be found "negligent."

8. The effect of a VC 23124 violation on a personal injury lawsuit?

A driver that violates Vehicle Code 23124 may cause – or get involved in – an accident with another motorist. If the motorist later files a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, the driver may be found "negligent."

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. Regarding auto accidents, negligent drivers are at fault for the accident and may also have to pay for any damages caused.

Please note that California law allows injured parties to file lawsuits against a minor's parents or guardians for injuries caused by a minor's negligence in car accidents.13 Thus, negligence matters in such accidents, even if injuries were caused by a minor.

Proving negligence in a personal injury case can sometimes be difficult. But, in California, 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 for causing an accident while using a cell phone or device since he would be in violation of Vehicle Code 23124.

9. Laws related to Vehicle Code 23124 VC.

There are three laws related to VC 23124. These are:

  1. California's law on stopping at red lights;
  2. California's "speeding laws"; and,
  3. California's unsafe passing laws.

9.1 California's law on stopping at red lights

According to Vehicle Code 21453(a), California drivers must stop at red lights.

Vehicle Code 21453(a) states:

A driver facing a steady circular red signal alone shall stop at a marked limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until an indication to proceed is shown, except as provided in subdivision (b).14

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.

9.2 California's "speeding laws"

"Speeding laws" refer to California's laws that penalize drivers for driving too fast. Examples of these laws include:

Penalties for violating California's speeding laws will typically include a fine and points assessed on the motorist's driving record.

The exact amount of a speeding ticket, though, will depend on the speed at which the driver was driving.

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

Please not the above amounts are base fines. The actual cost of a ticket will be significantly higher, as it will also include fees and penalty assessments.

9.3 California's unsafe passing laws

California has a series of laws on improper passing and overtaking vehicles found in Vehicle Code Sections 21750-21759 VC.

Each code section provides specific rules on overtaking vehicles, passing vehicles, or both.

In short:

  • Vehicle Code 21750 VC requires motorists to pass on the left.
  • Vehicle Code 21751 VC mandates that drivers pass to the left of center only when there is sufficient clearance.
  • Vehicle Code 21752 VC prohibits drivers from overtaking and passing on the left in specific circumstances.
  • Vehicle Code 21753 VC requires motorists that are getting passed to yield to the passing vehicle.
  • Vehicle Code 21754 VC allows drivers to overtake and pass on the right in only specific situations.
  • Vehicle Code 21755 VC provides further restrictions on right side passing.
  • Vehicle Code 21756 VC limits when drivers may pas busses and streetcars.
  • Vehicle Code 21757 VC provides further limitations with buses and streetcars and prohibits left side passing in specific situations.
  • Vehicle Code 21758 VC sets forth safety rules when motorists pass slow moving vehicles traveling on grades.
  • Vehicle Code 21759 VC requires all drivers to use caution when passing animals.

Drivers that violate California Vehicle Code Sections 21750-21759 VC will receive:

  1. A fine of $238; and,
  2. One point assessed to the driver's DMV driving record.18

Were you, or your minor, accused of using a cell phone or device while driving? Call us for help…

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Call us for help

If you or someone you know has been cited for violating Vehicle Code 23124 VC, 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.

LEGAL REFERENCES:

  1. California Vehicle Code 23124 (a) VC.

  2. California Vehicle Code 23124 (b) VC.

  3. California Vehicle Code 23124 (g) VC.

  4. California Vehicle Code 23124 (d) VC.

  5. California Vehicle Code 23124 (c) VC.

  6. See DMV.org.

  7. See California Courts website.

  8. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  9. 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.

  10. See same.

  11. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, endnote 1.

  12. 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.

  13. See California Vehicle Code section 17707.

  14. California Vehicle Code 21453(a) VC.

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