Key Takeaway: California’s laws prohibit drivers from using handheld devices while operating a vehicle, with strict regulations on texting and talking on cell phones. Victims of distracted driving accidents may pursue compensation for economic and noneconomic damages, including punitive damages if clear evidence of malice, oppression, or fraud is present.

Traffic accidents account for a substantial number of severe injuries and deaths in California and the rest of the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that distracted driving is responsible for nearly 10% of fatal accidents nationwide.

Despite the well-known risks, distracted driving continues to be a widespread problem. Those who suffer injuries in a car accident should consult with an attorney to understand how California’s distracted driving laws might affect their compensation claim.

What Is Distracted Driving? 

While there is no uniform definition for distracted driving, the California Office of Traffic Safety defines distracted driving as anytime a driver’s eyes or attention are not on the road or when a driver’s hands are off the steering wheel. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies three primary types of distractions.

California Distracted Driving Laws


Anything that takes the driver’s eyes off of the roadway is a distraction. These distractions include looking at a cell phone, changing music, operating a GPS, putting makeup on, or browsing social media. 


Anytime a driver takes their hands off the wheel, they are driving while distracted. Manual distractions often overlap with visual distractions and include eating and drinking, turning knobs, tending to a child, or searching through a bag. 


Anything that takes the driver’s mind off of driving is a distraction. Examples include daydreaming, thinking about arguments, reading texts, or talking on the phone. 

Distracted driving is preventable, and drivers should avoid multitasking while driving. Further, occupants in a car with a distracted driver should voice their concerns if they observe this behavior.

California’s Distracted Driving Statutes 

In California, it is illegal for a driver to hold a cell phone in their hand when driving. Under the law, drivers can only use hands-free devices mounted in a specific way. The rule applies when the driver is actively driving or stopped at a light. The law applies to both texting and talking while driving. 

California Texting and Driving Distracted Driving Laws

Under California’s distracted driving law, drivers cannot use handheld wireless devices while driving unless they operate their devices in a voice-operated, hands-free way. The most recent version of the law expanded the restriction to all wireless device functions. That means texting and using other phone features is prohibited while you are behind the wheel.  

Exceptions to Texting and Driving Law in California

There are a few exceptions to California’s texting and driving ban. These exceptions include the following: 

  • Drivers who use a hand to turn on or off a properly-mounted GPS, as long as it only requires one tap;
  • Using a wireless device in hands-free, voice-operated mode; and
  • Drivers who are using a manufacturer-installed system.

Emergency service providers are exempt from the ban while using an authorized vehicle. 

Talking on a Cell Phone Laws in California 

In addition to texting and driving, California prohibits drivers from using a cell phone to talk while driving if the phone is not in hands-free mode. The state’s cell phone ban does not apply when a driver uses a phone while driving on private property or places a call for emergency purposes. 

New California Driving Laws

California law imposes additional penalties on motorists who violate California’s hands-free law. Drivers who violate the law will be responsible for a fine and receive a point on their driving records. 

California’s Distracted Driving Laws for Minors

In light of the high number of young distracted drivers, California maintains strict distracted driving laws for drivers under 18. The law completely prohibits underage motorists from using any wireless device while driving, even in hands-free mode. The only exception to this rule is if the driver needs to place a call for emergency purposes. 

Damages for Distracted Driving Lawsuit 

California’s personal injury laws govern distracted driving claims. Like any other type of negligence lawsuit, the liable distracted driver may be responsible for economic, such as medical expenses, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. These compensatory damages are designed to make the victim whole again.

Punitive Damages Distracted Driving California Laws

Under California Civil Code 3294, a jury may award punitive damages in a personal injury case. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages serve to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from engaging in similar conduct. 

California treats distracted driving as negligence per se, meaning a driver is presumed negligent because they were breaking the law at the time of the accident.

However, securing punitive damages requires more than establishing the other driver was negligent. To be awarded punitive damages, the victim must establish by “clear and convincing evidence” that the distracted driver’s actions amounted to malice, oppression, or fraud.

In distracted driving accident cases, that means the victim must be able to show that the at-fault driver showed a conscious disregard for the victim’s safety. 

Are You Looking for Justice After a Distracted Driving Accident?

If you or a loved one was recently involved in a car accident with a distracted driver, Beliz Law Firm is here to help. Attorney Michael Beliz started the firm over a decade ago to help accident victims and their loved ones recover meaningful compensation after suffering serious injuries or losses.

Prior to that, he worked with two of the leading plaintiff’s personal injury law firms in Southern California, where he handled hundreds of cases. Throughout his more than 15 years in practice, Michael has helped countless families obtain fair compensation for their injuries.

To learn more about how we can help you, contact us to schedule a free consultation.

Author Photo

Michael Beliz

Michael A. Beliz, Esq., established The Beliz Law Firm in the spring of 2011.  Michael has been a practicing attorney since 2006 and worked for two of the most prominent plaintiff’s personal injury law firms in Southern California.  He has worked on and handled hundreds of cases as an attorney in all types of personal injury cases, including vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents and dog bites, and successfully recovered millions of dollars for his clients.

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