A second law, also effective July 1, allows drivers over 18 to use headsets while driving — but even then he or she must have one ear uncovered at all times. Drivers between 16 and 18 are not allowed to talk on cell phones under any circumstances.
California is one of five states to pass similar laws restricting driving and talking, while the majority of states have lighter phone regulations.
"From what I understand [the laws] are effective, but how effective it is remains to be seen," said Liz Wylie, spokesperson for the Mountain View Police Department. "The safest thing is to use no phone, but hands-free is better than using a handheld phone."
Officers can pull over drivers if they see them talking on the phone, and the first offense is $20, while it will cost drivers $50 for later convictions. The offense is reportable, but a violation point will not added to the offender's license.
The law does not apply to anyone operating an emergency vehicle, and any driver, even those under 18, can drive and make calls to enforcement agencies, medical providers or the fire department during an emergency.
"If you want to contact an emergency organization, you can do that with or without headphones, no matter how old you are," Wylie said.
San Jose California Highway Patrol officers say they hope the laws will ultimately make the highways safer. Although they are rarely on the scene when an accident happens, officers say they often expect collisions occurred because the driver was districted by a phone call.
But, they added, it may take a while for people to follow the new law.
"It reminds me of when we put the seatbelt law in effect," said CHP Officer Terrell Coleman. "People were so used to driving without seatbelts."
In Mountain View, Wylie said, police will use discretion when pulling over drivers who are talking, especially right after the law takes effect.
"When officers stop people, it is educational," she said. "It is up to each officer."
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