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It’s a brand new year, and along with the annual deluge of short-lived resolutions to work out and eat better, there are a number of new laws coming into effect in California. On a recent episode of All Things Legal, Craig Ashton and Ed Schade took some time to discuss one such law, Assembly Bill 1785, which bans California drivers from using their phones in any way while holding them.

We’ll let Craig Ashton kick things off: “Let’s go ahead and talk about the new laws that are going into effect. One of them is Assembly Bill 1785. This is going to go into effect January 1st, so Sunday. So basically the law is designed to stop people from holding their phones for a variety of uses. Before, it was just talking and texting [that were prohibited], but technically speaking, you could scroll Facebook, you could be on Snapchat…

“We’ve talked about on this show some of the idiocy of people where they’re going 107 miles an hour, videotaping themselves and then get in an accident. And technically speaking, that behavior was legal, [but] it will now become illegal on January 1st. Apparently, the California Office of Traffic Safety said one out of every eight drivers on the road is paying more attention to his smartphone than the road, which is a lot [of distracted drivers], and apparently 80% of crashes are based upon some form of distracted driver. So that is a pretty significant hazard.”

While A.B. 1785 restricts handheld use of a phone while driving, some forms of use are still allowed.

Craig: “So the idea now is going to be that you can only have your phone out of your hands, either attached to your dash, or to a 5 inch square in the lower corner of the windshield to the driver’s left, or a 7 inch square in the lower corner of the windshield on the passenger’s side. That means you can’t touch it.

“You get one swipe. So in other words, if you’re on Spotify or Pandora, you get one swipe, and if it takes more than that, technically that’s illegal. I don’t know how they’re going to prove that. I think the only way you’re going to get into trouble is if your phone is close to you, and it’s not attached to the dash or your windshield, and at that point they may do some more investigating.”

While the motivation behind the law is understandable, it has raised some concerns, and ignores many other common sources of distraction for drivers.

Ed: “To me it’s just kind of an overreach that just because you have your phone in your hand, you become now a dangerous driver. To me, the better law would [expand] the officer’s ability to pull somebody over that’s maybe bobbing in [and out of traffic] or acting erratically within their lane… and then give them a ticket for inattentive driving. That to me is a better alternative than this.”

Craig: “Yeah, I get it. It is a safety issue for sure. But it’s just kind of unreasonable… there’s a person in this story that was talking about, ‘Well, what if you’re eating food?’ I mean, you’re eating a Big Mac and you’re looking down at your food, that’s not illegal.”

Ed: “When I was living down south, somebody took out all the power on our street because they took out a power pole. It had nothing to do with a phone. The guy dropped his soda and was leaning down to grab it and when he leaned down to the right he pulled the steering wheel to the right and took out a power pole.”

Craig: “And it also doesn’t apply to… an integrated system in your vehicle, like I have, so once you put your phone in it syncs with it and you can basically make all of your phone calls and everything from your dash [through an integrated display], and this law doesn’t apply to that.”

Craig’s mention of dash-based systems led Ed Schade to point out a serious oversight in the law: Drivers are no longer allowed to perform any phone operation that requires multiple taps, such as entering an address into a navigation app, but there’s nothing that prohibits them from performing the exact same operations on integrated dash systems and dedicated GPS systems.

However, drivers are still response for accidents caused by any form of distracted driving.

While Craig and Ed agreed that it was an oversight which would likely lead to a slippery slope of additional laws in the future, Craig pointed out that distracted driving, regardless of the source of the distraction, conveys liability: “If you’re eating a burrito and you drop it on your lap and you hit somebody, that’s probably going to be negligence, and there’s going to be civil liability, and you might even get a ticket for that.”

So, in short, keep your eyes on the road. It doesn’t matter whether you’re holding your phone, eating a sandwich, or putting your makeup on: If you cause a car accident due to distraction, you’re going to need an auto accident attorney. While we’ll take your case, we would rather you not have to come through our door. Stay safe.

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