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Published: January 13, 2022Last updated: July 29, 2022

How Much Are Fines for Texting and Driving in California?

And why the laws are different if you’re under 18

We all know that texting while driving is dangerous and illegal, but we’ve also probably sent a text message from behind the wheel at times. In California, laws for texting and driving differ based on whether you’re under or over the age of 18. We’ll go over the laws for California drivers, the fines for a traffic ticket, and what you can do to avoid them in Los Angeles County and beyond.

How Much Are Fines for Texting and Driving in California?

First, let’s go over California’s Vehicle Code (VC), which covers the laws on texting and driving.

How Much Are Fines for Texting and Driving in California

California Laws Prohibiting Texting and Driving

Three sections outline the laws against texting and driving.

  • 23123(a) VC: This law prohibits talking on the phone on a device that’s not hands-free for those over the age of 18.
  • 23123.5(a) VC: You also can’t text and drive.
  • 23124(b) VC: If you’re under the age of 18, you can’t even talk on a hands-free device.

CheckFYI

If you get into a collision that’s your fault, don’t have collision insurance, and don’t live in a no-fault state, you’ll have to pay out of pocket. Learn more about collision coverage, liability vs. no-fault states, and bodily injury liability.

Exceptions

Please note that there are a few exceptions to 23123(a):

  • You can make an emergency call to the fire department, law enforcement, a medical provider, or other emergency services professionals, even if you’re under 18.
  • You can make a call if you’re emergency personnel operating an authorized emergency vehicle and over 18.
  • You can talk on the phone while driving a motor vehicle on private property if you’re over 18.
  • You can make calls on devices that are specifically designed for hands-free talking and listening if you’re over 18.
  • While bus drivers over 18 can use hands-free, manufacturer-installed systems in the vehicle while driving, they can also use handheld devices that require their hands if both of the following conditions are met:
  • The device is mounted on the windshield in the same way a GPS device is mounted, not obscuring the view of the road.
  • The driver is able to activate or deactivate a feature with a single swipe or tap.

Fines

The cost of violating the above laws is $20 for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. California’s fines apply to all drivers, both above and below the age of 18, including bus drivers. These fees are low compared to the laws for texting and driving in New York, where fines start at $50 and can go all the way up to $450.

The California Legislature doesn’t specify the number of points you’ll incur for violating these laws, but the judicial system website says that you’ll get points on your driving record with the DMV (again, not specifying a number). Of course, if you think you’re not guilty, you should seek legal advice from a traffic ticket lawyer to avoid paying a base fine for cell phone tickets.

How Fines Can Affect Insurance Costs

Once you pay the fine for your infraction, the case will be closed, but the violation will show up as points on your record for three to seven years.1 These points could affect the cost of your auto insurance.

To begin with, it’s hard to find cheap auto insurance in California. Auto insurance is expensive in California for a multitude of reasons, including population density, a high number of drivers, and the general cost of living. Violations for texting and driving will make your premiums even higher.

Learn more about the cost of auto insurance in California. You can also read our auto insurance frequently asked questions for even more information.

How the Police Enforce Phone and Texting Laws

How the Police Enforce Phone and Texting Laws

Law enforcement for being on the phone and texting while driving differ based on your age. If you’re above the age of 18, the police can stop you if you’re not using a hands-free device. However, if you’re under the age of 18, they can’t stop you solely for using a hands-free device, as it’s a secondary violation.2

How to Avoid Texting and Driving Citations

The easiest way to avoid texting and driving citations is to not use your phone, or any electronic communication devices, while you drive. However, if you are above the age of 18 and need to make a call or use a voice assistant, make sure your device is hands-free. Voice assistants like Siri can make it easy to use your phone without your hands. If you’re under 18, don’t use your device at all, not even with voice assistants.

CheckDID YOU KNOW?

Drivers are 23 times more likely to be in a collision if they’re texting and driving.3

Recap

Collisions happen in only a few seconds, so even a quick glance at a text can put you at risk. To learn more about driving in California, read our articles on the minimum car insurance in California and if you have to have insurance to register a car in California.

Citations

  1. Traffic & Ticket Basics. California Courts. (2022).
    https://www.courts.ca.gov/8452.htm?rdeLocaleAttr=en

  2. ARTICLE 1. Driving Offenses [23100 – 23135]. California Legislative Information. (1981).
    https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=VEH&division=11.&title=&part=&chapter=12.&article=1

  3. Start Smart: Driving Smart to Stay Safe. California Highway Patrol. (2022).
    https://www.chp.ca.gov/programs-services/programs/youth-programs/start-smart-driving-smart-to-stay-safe