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What counts as distracted driving?


When most people think of a distracted driver, the image of a motorist texting behind the wheel often comes to mind. While this is common and a serious danger to other drivers, distracted driving is broader than just sending a message.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines three types of distracted driving:

  • Visual, or taking one's eyes off the road
  • Manual, or taking one's hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive, or taking one's mind off driving

The reason texting gets so much focus, particularly through legislation, is that it fits into all three descriptions. The driver's eyes are on their phone, one or both hands are holding the phone and their mind focuses on the message.

However, there are several other types of distracted driving that could lead a driver to cause an accident. They include:

  • Talking on a cell phone
  • Using a GPS
  • Eating and drinking
  • Applying makeup
  • Rummaging through a wallet or purse
  • Adjusting car controls
  • Daydreaming
  • Road rage

How do California laws address distractions?

California passed cell phone laws that prohibit the use of a cell phone or other wireless device, unless there is a valid emergency or work purpose. If a driver is under 18, they cannot use any wireless device at all - no cell phones, handheld device, hands-free device, Bluetooth, speaker phone, etc.

The state also enacted a new law to expand on these stipulations. AB 1785 prohibits driving while holding a cell phone in one's hand. If the phone is used in a hands-free setting, such as via voice command or a mounting device, it is legal. Drivers also can "single swipe" a device or tap a screen once to activate or deactivate a function. Multiple scrolls or taps are illegal.

Other distractions are not illegal, but law enforcement officers who see distractions that they believe couple present a danger are able to issue citations.

Drivers should be aware of how other motorists nearby could be distracted, even if their phone isn't in their hands. A couple swipes on a GPS or a swig of coffee could just as likely cause an accident as sending a text.

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