What is California Assembly Bill 1785?

As per the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, distracted driving consists of "any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving." In the context of electronics, these activities might include:

  • Using a smartphone or cellular phone

  • Texting

  • Using a navigational device

The three distractions

Driving a motor vehicle requires visual, manual and cognitive functions that become diminished as soon as a driver touches a cellular device. Visual distractions occur when you take your eyes off of the road. A manual distraction occurs when one or both of your hands are off of the steering wheel. A cognitive distraction occurs when your brain isn't targeted on what you're doing. When a driver is looking at a mobile device, all of those cognitive functions are significantly diminished.

Drive a football field blindfolded

The Virginia Tech Traffic Institute reports that five seconds is the average time that your eyes are off of the road while texting. At a speed of 55 mph, that's sufficient time to travel the length of a football field blindfolded. That's also sufficient time to place everybody around you on or off of the road in danger of severe injuries or death. That's old news though. It's just texting. Now we have smartphones.


State Farm Insurance reports that more than 80 percent of all adults own smartphones. The biggest increase of smartphone ownership has been with adults 40 and older. With the popularity of smartphones comes increased risk. Drivers will not only have conversations while driving, but they can also read and answer texts and emails.

The old law

Up until 2017, it was against the law for a motorist to use a cell phone to read, write or text while a vehicle was being operated on a roadway. The law allowed hands-free use of a cellular phone, but it wasn't specific as to how somebody would go about doing so.

What is Assembly Bill 1785 and the new law?

AB 1785 became California law on January 1, 2017. The intent of the new law is to enhance public safety through limiting the use of mobile devices when a person is operating a motor vehicle on a public highway. Drivers are prohibited from holding a mobile device for any reason while they're operating a motor vehicle, regardless of whether it's in hands-free mode or not. The mobile device has to be mounted to the vehicle's dashboard or windshield outside of an airbag deployment zone. Although most mobile devices are voice activated, a finger can be used to swipe or tap the device's screen to turn it on or off, but repeated swiping can get you a traffic ticket.


Given the danger that distracted driving presents, punishment is downright laughable. The fine for a first offense is $20. The fine for a second or subsequent offense is $50.00. Those fines aren't going to get the attention or compliance of very many people.

Fatalities and injuries are underreported

According to Assemblyman Bill Quirk of Hayward and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, there were 15 fatalities and 500 injuries attributable to distracted drivers every day in 2015. That number has to be tragically low because in most cases, without an admission of distraction, it's very difficult to prove that a driver was distracted at the instant that he or she was involved in an accident. The Department of Motor Vehicles also reported a statewide total of 426,000 mobile phone and texting convictions. Over 13,000 citations were written for texting while driving, and more than 78,000 were written for talking on a mobile device while driving. Assemblyman Quirk remarked that the new law "targets the deadliest form of distracted driving crashes." That form involves the use of any electronic device while driving.

Posted January 01, 2017
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