Sorry, Pokemon Go fans and compulsive Facebook users: A new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, makes it illegal to do just about anything on your cellphone while driving, including tweeting, updating your Facebook status, entering an address into Waze and playing games.
“Technology has improved so rapidly, and our cellphones are capable of much more than just calls and text messages,” the bill's author, Bay Area State Assemblyman Bill Quirk, said in a press release. “Smartphones have an abundance of available features that demand a driver’s attention, leading to very dangerous driving behavior. However, such activities are not clearly prohibited by law.”
Of course, it is already illegal to send a text message or make a phone call while holding your phone and driving. But other things — for example, playing Candy Crush, taking a selfie, responding to a LinkedIn invitation — were technically in a legal gray area.
Starting Jan. 1, you can only use your cellphone while driving if it's mounted to your car in some fashion — and even then, you can only do something that demands a simple “one tap” action. For example, you can hit “accept” if you get a phone call, though of course you can't hold the phone up to your ear.
We asked Assemblyman Quirk's chief of staff, Tomasa Dueñas, if, in the event one were to get a text message from a wife or significant other, under the new law one would be allowed to send back a kissy emoji, or perhaps the zucchini if one was feeling randy.
“So … that wouldn’t be allowed,” she replied, since it takes more than one tap to do all that.
An Uber driver could tap his or her phone to accept a ride but could not input an address into a navigational app — he or she would have to pull over to the side of the road to do that.
The fine for illegally operating a mobile device while driving is $20. But that's only for the first infraction. Subsequent infractions are $50.
In 2015, there were nearly 700 car crashes “involving handheld cellphone use as an inattention factor,” according to Quirk's press release. More than 500 of these crashes resulted in an injury, and 12 resulted in a fatality.
“The accidents, injuries and deaths associated with this form of distracted driving are completely preventable,” Quirk said in the press release. “I am proud that Gov. Brown has agreed that it is time that we update our archaic laws on the issue and do our part to make sure drivers are focused on the road. This bill will save lives.”