Bill Would Ban Hands-Free Texting for Teen Drivers

April 24, 2013

Drivers under the age of 18 would be banned from texting while driving even if they use hands-free devices, under a cleanup bill approved by the state Senate. According to a news report in The Associated Press, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen said a bill passed last year did not specifically exempt teenagers when it allowed California's drivers to use voice-operated and hands-free devices to dictate, send or listen to text messages while driving. The bill (SB 194), proposed by Senator Cathleen Gagliani, will close that loophole. The bill has received bipartisan support and was approved on a 35-3 vote. It has been sent to the Assembly.

Research on Distracted Driving

There is no question that texting while driving can be dangerous for drivers of all ages, especially our teenagers. A variety of studies done by Pew Foundation, Monash University, VTTI and Carnegie Mellon show unequivocally that teens and texting can be a lethal combination in a vehicle. Government statistics show that 11 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time.

Pew's study shows that 40 percent of American teens say they have been in a vehicle where the driver had used a cell phone in a dangerous manner. Another study by VTTI shows that drivers who text create a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. A VTTI study also showed that headset cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use. Also, driving while using a cell phone, hand-held or hands-free, reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon.

A Necessary Law

Texting or talking on a hand-held phone is already banned under California law. According to California Vehicle Code Section 23123 (a): "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."

As a California personal injury lawyer who represents injured car accident victims, I'm all too familiar with the devastating consequences of distracted driving. Sending or receiving a text is not as important as someone's life. This new law is necessary to ensure that our youngest drivers are giving all their attention to the act of driving and paying attention to the roadway.