The Facts About California, Washington's Cell Phone BansS

We hate to be the bearers of bad news, California and Washington state, but today, July 1, is the day that a new hands-free driving law goes into effect. Luckily for you, we're here to break down the new rules and explain what you can and can't do, along with providing some alternative options. Don't live in California or Washington? Check out our guide here to see what's happening in your state.

California
Younger than 18

  • Complete ban on communication devices: includes cell phone handsets, hands-free headsets, integrated vehicle speakerphone systems, text messaging, etc.
  • If you're caught using any kind of a communication device it's a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for every subsequent offense
  • Offenses will go on your record, but not count as points against your license
  • Emergency calls for police, fire or medical help are permitted
  • Use of a hands-free device is a secondary offense, meaning an officer can't pull you over for that reason alone; use of a handset is a primary offense, and officers can pull you over for that reason alone

18 and older

  • Ban on handset use
  • Hands-free devices are permitted, including Bluetooth headsets (as long as both ears aren't covered), speakerphone systems, cell phone speakerphones, etc.
  • Text messaging is permitted, but if you are pulled over and the officer thinks you were distracted, you could be ticketed
  • The first offense results in a $20 fine and each subsequent offense results in a $50 fine
  • Offenses will go on your record, but not count as points against your license
  • Dialing on the handset is permitted, but strongly discouraged
  • Push-to-talk cell phone systems (similar to two-way radios) are not permitted; they are only permitted for commercial truck drivers not in pick-up trucks
  • Emergency calls for police, fire or medical help are allowed

Washington

  • Ban on handset use (a complete text messaging ban has been in effect since January 1)
  • Hands-free devices are permitted, including Bluetooth headsets, wired headsets, speakerphones, Bluetooth speakerphones, etc.
  • Exceptions to the law include emergency use, emergency vehicle operators, tow truck operators or a hearing-impaired person using a hearing aid
  • The hands-free and text messaging bans are both secondary violations, meaning an officer can't stop you for that reason alone
  • Fines can be as much as $124

Options
There are plenty of options that comply with the new driving laws in California and Washington, most of which are cheaper than the fines associated with violations.

Cell phone speakerphone
This is the cheapest option in most cases. Many cell phones have an integrated speakerphone that can be activated with a push of a button. Just be careful about holding it too close to your ear.

Wired headset

The Facts About California, Washington's Cell Phone Bans

Wired headsets are a dying breed, but remain one of the cheapest and easiest options. Many cell phones include a wired headset out of the box, but for those that don't, one can be purchased for cheap. Like less than $10 cheap.







Wireless headsets

The Facts About California, Washington's Cell Phone Bans

This most commonly means Bluetooth headsets. For driving purposes, these are some of the safest to use because you can push a button on the headset to answer the call and hang up. They also provide great clarity and are easy to transport. Be warned that if you wear the headset outside of the vehicle, many people will think you are a douchebag.

Third-party speakerphone

The Facts About California, Washington's Cell Phone Bans

Third-party speakerphones include those manufactured by companies like Motorola as well as those already integrated into your car. The Ford Sync is just one example of an in-car system that includes a Bluetooth speakerphone.