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The law is simple about cell phone use while driving
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I don't know about you, but I get so very irritated with folks who drive and talk on their cell phone. You've seen them-numerous unsafe lane changes, fastest driver on the road, turning without signaling, etc. It is obvious that they are unable to multi-task.

I'm a rule follower; always have been; always will be. Now, don't get me wrong. I certainly understand the urge to answer a ringing telephone. It is almost as though I am part of Pavlov's conditioned response experiments with dogs. I hear a ring tone and must immediately answer the phone, regardless of what else I may be doing.

As your Superior Court Commissioner, I occasionally hear traffic court cases. It is from that perspective that I am writing.

As everybody knows, even the non-drivers, it is against the law to drive while using a telephone unless you are using a hands-free device. The law came into effect July 1, 2008. If anyone has an interest in reading the law, it is contained in California Vehicle Code Section 23123. Although we are in the third year of this law being enforced, there are still folks who try to get around it.

"I wasn't driving; I was stopped at a red light." Sorry. Under the law, that does not relieve you of responsibility. On Nov. 14, 2011 the First Appellate District in the California Courts of Appeal, in the case of The People vs. Carl Nelson (2011 DJDAR 16531) found that one can infer that the defendant was using his phone only moments before stopping at the red light. Justice Richman, in his concurring opinion, puts it succinctly: " put it bluntly,...'driving' includes 'stopping.'" Although Stanislaus County is not part of the First Appellate District (it is in the Fifth District), a momentary stop at a red light or stop sign will probably not cut you much slack if you are caught using your cell phone.

"I had my cell phone on speaker and it was lying on my lap (or the seat, or the dash, etc.)." Again, sorry. The law requires that the only telephone a driver may use while driving is one that "is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking". Using the speaker phone would probably not conform to this requirement since pretty much all phones have speaker capability. Additionally, to dial or answer the phone, one must use their hands (or other body parts) and, therefore, would not be hands-free.

"I wasn't talking on my cell phone; I was only checking my text messages (or voice mail)." Again, this excuse will not pass muster. Vehicle Code Section 23123 specifically states, "A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless..." (emphasis added). Any use of a cell phone, without the required "hands-free" will subject the user to a ticket and a trip to traffic court.

Purchasing a hands-free device is a very inexpensive quick fix to this problem. A quick search through a local big box store found that the cost of a hands-free device starts at $20. I found one for $12 at a nationwide discount chain.

Compare purchasing an inexpensive hands-free device with the cost of a first time cell phone violation ticket (in Stanislaus County: $169 out the door...bail, assessments, penalties and fees; each succeeding violation is higher) this is a complete no-brainer. Save yourself some money and the lives of your fellow drivers. Please purchase a hands-free device, but don't stop there. You also need to use it.

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Stanislaus County Superior Court.

For the past 12 years, Nancy Williamsen has served our community as a Superior Court Commissioner for the Stanislaus County Superior Court. As a Superior Court Commissioner she acts as a temporary judge.