New cell phone laws create business liability

As of July 1, a new law makes it illegal to drive in California while talking on a hand-held phone. If Californians still wish to talk while driving, they must use hands-free cell phone devices or risk a ticket. Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using any mobile device while driving, except for emergency calls.

As Gov. Schwarzenegger said in a June press conference, the purpose of the law is “getting drivers’ hands off the cell phone and onto the steering wheel.” He added that the new law will save almost 300 lives each year in California.

Drivers using cell phones without a hands-free device face a $20 ticket for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.

The new law creates additional liabilities for businesses with employees who must drive as a part of work. Employers in California may be fined if they still require employees to use their mobile phones while driving or if they are not completely clear in policies regarding cell phones and driving.

Although the it does not impose specific requirements on employers, companies with employees in California should take a few precautionary steps in response to the new law. According to those at the Ford & Harrison law firm, employers should:

  • Develop and implement a clear policy prohibiting the use of any mobile device to conduct business while driving, unless using a hands-free device.
  • Train everyone at the company including employees, supervisors and managers about the policy and new law.
  • Employers who reimburse employees for business-related cell phone charges, or provide employees with cell phones should also provide a hands-free device or reimburse employees for the purchase of such a device.

California now joins Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Washington state, New Jersey, New York with similar laws prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving.

Visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles for a complete FAQ regarding the law and more information on how the new cell phone laws may affect you and your business.

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