Before I address how the hands free law is enforced, I will explain why it was created. Several years ago the California Legislature passed a law for the stated purpose of protecting the public from drivers who were distracted because they were using a cell phone while driving. Please keep in mind that this law did not outlaw talking on the phone while driving. Instead, it prevented a person from holding the phone while driving. A person is required to drive “hands free” of the telephone.
What is somewhat interesting about this law is the theory that a person is distracted by holding a cell phone to one’s ear. The distraction is not multitasking by trying to focus on a conversation while navigating through traffic. The law does not mandate that a person drives with both hands on the steering wheel. Instead, it makes sure that neither of the person’s hands touches a cellphone while driving. So, for example, a driver can have a conversation through a car’s blue tooth device while applying makeup and drinking a can of soda and not be considered to violate any laws regarding safe driving.
NOT LIMITED TO CELL PHONE
The application of this hands free law is not limited to talking on the cell phone when driving. In fact, the law is also applied to using a navigation app in a cell phone while driving. The person need not be having a conversation at the time. So, a person who is holding a cell phone to listen to the navigation app through a speaker on his cell phone is guilty of violating the hands free law. The law is very strict in requiring that the individual not have a cell phone in hand.
USING EAR BUDS
Can a driver comply with the hands free law by using the ear buds purchased with the phone? The answer is perhaps. Under the past law, a person can be considered hands free if wearing both earbuds while driving so long as a hand is NOT coming in contact with a cell phone. If the person is holding the cell phone while communicating through the ear bud piece, it will not be considered hands free. However, effective January 2016 the use of ear buds will no longer be considered hands free if a person has ear buds in both ears. Instead the person can be using an ear bud in one ear.
In conclusion, driving while touching a cell phone is illegal because it can distract the driver and is thus considered unsafe. If a police office sees a driver holding a cell phone, it could form the basis of a stop and possible DUI / Drunk Driving arrest. However, driving while listening to your navigation system, eating, drinking, applying makeup, or not holding the steering wheel with both hands is legal because the legislature has not deemed any of these dangerous.