Can You Use Your Cell Phone at a Red Light in California?

What Are California's Cell Phone Laws? | The Law Offices of Mickey Fine

Cell phone use is among the leading causes of car accidents in California. Texting, using social media, and talking on the phone are all dangerous distractions—so much so that studies have found cell phone use to be comparable to alcohol intoxication in terms of the risks it presents on the road.

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents and road fatalities in California and across the United States. If you were hurt because of another driver’s reckless or inattentive behavior, you have the right to pursue compensation for your physical, emotional, and financial losses. 

The Bakersfield car accident lawyers at The Law Offices of Mickey Fine are passionate about helping the wrongfully injured in California. If you were injured by a distracted driver, we want to hear your story. 

It Is Illegal To Use a Handheld Cell Phone at a Red Light in California

In California, it is illegal to use a handheld cell phone behind the wheel. The law does not distinguish between when a vehicle is stopped and when it is in motion. Section 23123.5(a) of the California Vehicle Code states, “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone . . . unless the wireless telephone . . . is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation, and it is used in that manner while driving.”

Some people might look at Section 23123.5(a) and see a potential loophole—the statute’s reference to “driving.” If you are stopped at a red light, are you still “driving” your vehicle? 

Section 23123.5(c) eliminates any confusion in this regard. It states: 

“A handheld wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device may be operated in a manner requiring the use of the driver’s hand while the driver is operating the vehicle only if both of the following conditions are satisfied:

“(1) The handheld wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device is mounted on a vehicle’s windshield . . . or is mounted on or affixed to a vehicle’s dashboard or center console in a manner that does not hinder the driver’s view of the road.

“(2) The driver’s hand is used to activate or deactivate a feature or function . . . with the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger.”

Under California law, there is no question that a person is “operating a vehicle” if the person is stopped at a red light. So, regardless of whether you are moving or stopped, you can only use your phone if you can do what you need to do with a single swipe or tap. 

The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) also confirms that handheld cellphone use in the driver’s seat is prohibited under all circumstances: “In California, you cannot use a cell phone…while holding it in your hand. You can only use it in a hands-free manner, such as speaker phone or voice commands, but never while holding it.” Again, there is no distinction between using a cell phone while moving and using a cell phone while stopped. 

Using a Cell Phone at a Red Light Can Be Dangerous

Why can’t you use your cell phone at a red light in California? One possible explanation is that lawmakers simply didn’t consider this distinction when drafting the law. But, another possible explanation is that using a cell phone on the road is dangerous even if your vehicle isn’t moving. 

For example, imagine you are sitting at a red light, reading an email on your phone. In your peripheral vision, you see the car next to you start to move. Since you are distracted, you let your foot off the brake, and the next thing you know you have rear-ended the car in front of you because it hasn’t moved. 

Or, imagine a scenario in which you are at a red light alone. Another driver who is also distracted comes through the intersection from the opposite direction, headed straight for your vehicle. If you weren’t distracted, you might be able to avoid the car accident. But, since you aren’t paying attention, you are helpless to avoid being hit head-on. 

These are just two examples of several scenarios in which it can be dangerous to be distracted at a red light. When you are behind the wheel, it is always important to be aware of your surroundings and remain focused on the task at hand. 

Call a Bakersfield Car Accident Lawyer for Free 

Were you involved in an accident involving a distracted driver at a red light in California? If so, you should speak with a lawyer about your legal rights. 

For a FREE, no-obligation consultation at The Law Offices of Mickey Fine, call (661) 333-3333 now.

Distracted Driving
by Mickey Fine Law
Last updated on - Originally published on