Consequences in San Francisco of Cell Phone Use While Driving

As smartphones get more innovative and connectivity to emails, text messages, and video messages increases, our screen time increases. Unfortunately, many drivers still lack the restraint needed to put their phones down and just drive. Using a cell phone while driving has contributed to a rise in car accidents in the San Francisco area.

To keep drivers safer, California has many laws restricting the use of cell phones.


California has two different laws about cell phones and driving. One covers the use of speaking on a cell phone without a hands-free device. The other, referred to as distracted driving, covers the use of text messages while driving.

California law prohibits all motorists from using a cellphone while driving unless it is a hands-free device. California Vehicle Code 23123 states that:

“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.”

There are four exceptions. These include drivers calling to report an emergency, cell phone use on private property, bus drivers, or emergency service personal operating an authorized emergency vehicle.

In San Francisco, if a driver is caught talking on a handheld device, they are breaking the law. Drivers must use an earpiece, speakerphone, Bluetooth device, or other hands-free device to speak on their mobile phone.

California’s distracted driving laws prohibit texting while driving. California Vehicle Code 23123.5 states that:

“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.”

Electronic wireless communications devices are defined as a broadband personal communication device, a handheld device or laptop computer, and a pager.

Text message while driving is illegal. It is also illegal to use other cellphone features, including web browsing and GPS, while driving.


California’s cellphone and distracted driving laws are “primary” offenses. That means that a law enforcement officer can stop your vehicle if you talk or text on your smartphone.

If you are stopped for using a cellphone while driving, you can be fined up to a $20 base fine for your first violation. The second offense is a $50 base fine. However, the amount you may pay will be higher based on assessments.

You also risk points on your license for talking on a cellphone. For violations that occurred on or after July 1, 2021, the DMV will assess one point for repeat offenders. However, the current violation had to be within 36 months of a prior conviction.

Violating California’s district driving laws is an infraction. If convicted, a motorist faces a $20 base fine for the first offense and a $50 base fine for the second. If the distracted driving violation happened within 36 months of a previous one, it would also result in one point.

A police officer cannot stop an underage driver for talking or texting. But, if the minor is pulled over for a legitimate reason, such as speeding, they could be given a citation for violating the hands-free law or for distracted driving. If you have any questions about San Francisco’s cellphone or distracted driving laws, contact our car accident attorneys at the Law Office of Daniel H. Rose