Why police officers can talk non-hands-free while driving

Q: I've observed Capitola police officers regularly use their mobile phones while driving! Why? Rick Caldarella, via email A: This topic has appeared in Street Smarts before. But being that this is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and officers will be enforcing zero tolerance toward drivers who insist on texting and talking with their cellphone in hand, we should clear up any question about who IS allowed to use their cellphones. Law enforcement officers, other emergency personnel and operators of school and transit buses are allowed to use cell phones on duty, this according to the California Vehicle Code section 23123, titled “Hand-Held Wireless Telephone: Prohibited Use.” In its entirety, this section, which can be found at http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc23123.htm, reads:
  • (a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.
  • (b) A violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a base fine of twenty dollars ($20) for a first offense and fifty dollars ($50) for each subsequent offense.
  • (c) This section does not apply to a person using a wireless telephone for emergency purposes, including, but not limited to, an emergency call to a law enforcement agency, health care provider, fire department, or other emergency services agency or entity.
  • (d) This section does not apply to an emergency services professional using a wireless telephone while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties.
  • (e) This section does not apply to a person driving a schoolbus or transit vehicle that is subject to Section 23125.
  • (f) This section does not apply to a person while driving a motor vehicle on private property.
  • (g) This section shall become operative on July 1, 2011.
Read up on vehicle code section 165 about emergency vehicles at http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d01/vc165.htm. Find section 23125 about buses at http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc23125.htm. In regard to police officers and cell phones, they've told me they use their phones to talk to dispatch and their supervisors. I've also heard told that cell phones are used to prevent sensitive information from going out over the airwaves of their radios, which are monitored by other agencies, private citizens and the media. In Tuesday's special distracted driver enforcement detail in Capitola, officers used their cell phones to relay information to each other, but not necessarily while driving. “We do use our cell phone in the course of business,” Sgt. Matt Eller, traffic sergeant for the Capitola Police Department, told Street Smarts during the November 2012 column on the topic of cellphones. “Even though we are exempt, the caveat is we must drive our vehicles ‘safely.’” Read that previous column at http://www.santacruzlive.com/streetsmarts/2012/11/25/read-street-smarts-put-down-the-cell-phone-and-drive-reader-says/.
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One Response to Why police officers can talk non-hands-free while driving

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    wrong, wrong, wrong. I observed an officer today who was using a cell while driving, and very obviosly *not* in the course of his duties. It’s currently unclear if this office was on or off duty. When I pulled up next to him and gave the (universal) talking on the phone sign, he sped away from me. I approached him a second time at the next light, and I was promptly flipped off. Vallejo california, you’ve got some explaining to do. Unmarked car, “police cruiser” metallic brownish-grey, Licence plate began with 6ZASV. Awaited outside the police substation on Amador Street fro 30 minutes for a Leutenant to come out and talk the situation over. Never showed, so I called back, told them they had thier chance, and I would take this to the press. Officers are not above the law, and certainly not above insults to the public. Writing an editorial to local paper this evening.

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