Beginning July 1, California drivers will be required by law to go hands-free with their favorite on-the-road accessory – cell phones.

According to a statement from the California Dept. of Motor Vehicles, two new laws restricting cell phone usage by motorists will come into effect this summer.

The first law prohibits drivers from using handheld wireless phones while driving. Drivers over the age of 18 may use a hands-free device, such as a Bluetooth or other earpiece, as long as only one ear is covered. Drivers can also use the speakerphone option on their phones while driving.

According to the DMV, the law does not specifically prohibit text messaging while driving, although it is not encouraged.

“An officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely,” the statement said. “Sending text messages while driving is unsafe at any speed and is strongly discouraged.”

With the new policy, law enforcement officers can pull over a motorist solely for a cell phone infraction. However, the law does allow for calls to law enforcement agencies or for medical purposes in emergency situations.

The penalty is a $20 fine for the first offense and a $50 fine for each following conviction. Although the offense will appear on the driver’s record, the offender will not receive a violation point on his or her license.

Meanwhile, the second law prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones and all other electronic communication devices – even “hands-free” devices -with the exception of emergency situations.

According to the DMV, more restrictions are placed on younger drivers because of their lack of experience.

“Teen drivers are vulnerable to driving distractions such as talking with passengers, eating or drinking, and talking or texting on wireless devices, which increase the chance of getting involved in serious vehicle crashes,” the statement said.

Both restrictions were signed into law in September 2006 and will be effective July 1, with no grace period for drivers.

-Staff Report