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Do California's strict hands-free cell phone laws keep you safe?

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California lawmakers have been cracking down on cellphone use while driving for years. As of 2017, you can't have your cellphone in your hand for any reason. The goal is to lower the rate of distracted driving, but has it worked?

In California, the number of drivers who use cellphones while driving is up, but the numbers aren't that bad overall.

In 2018, California's Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) found that less than 5 percent of drivers use their phones while driving. That number is higher than the 2017 rate but lower than in 2016.

Are the numbers accurate?

Other studies report a much higher rate of fatal cellphone use while driving for 2018. Those groups gathered data from different sources than the OTS report, such as crash reports and databases. This could have lead them to different conclusions. Many issues contribute to false or misleading data in texting-and-driving reports. These include:

  • Counting all cases labeled "distracted driving"
  • Counting cases where a cellphone was in the vehicle even if it wasn't in use
  • Counting cases where a cellphone didn't contribute to the crash
  • Reporter errors in crash statements
  • Drivers hiding the fact that they used their phone in a crash

What lowers cellphone use while driving?

Apparently, large fines and a decade-old ban on cellphone use are not enough to prevent all drivers from driving while using their phones. However, the OTS report found that drivers with passengers, especially children, use their phones eight times less than solo drivers. It appears that the best way for the driving community to make a real difference is to hold each other accountable.

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