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Alert: New California Cellphone Law Now In Effect


Alert: New California Cellphone Law Now In Effect

Robert Gammenthaler

Robert Gammenthaler

Associate partner at ChurchWest.

There's a new California cellphone law in effect that affects churches and ministries.Welcome to 2017! Now that we’re all heading back to work after a glorious Christmas and holiday season, I’ll bet you’ve noticed a lot of your fellow drivers not using their cellphones as they’re driving around town. That just might be due to a new California public safety law focused on cellphone usage and driving that went into effect at the start of 2017. This new law affects all of us living in and visiting the state of California.

Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1785 into effect last year, and it prohibits holding a cellphone while driving. It doesn’t matter why you’re holding the phone – if you’re driving and holding it, you’re breaking the law. Breaking the new law could subject you to a fine of $20 for the first offense, and fines increase to $50 with subsequent infractions.

How Does This New Law Affect Churches?

It’s simple. This new law helps protect churches. Here’s how: the intent of the law is to prevent distracted behavior while driving, for example using a cellphone for texting, taking photos, streaming video, or playing games (remember Pokemon Go, anyone?).

Distracted driving has become a big deal over the few last years, especially with the rapid spread of handheld devices, such as Android and iPhones. In fact, according to one study, driving while talking on a cellphone may be just as dangerous as driving under the influence.

A few years ago, a driver in Ohio driving a church van crashed into a commuter train. Her van, carrying multiple children and another adult, crashed right through the crossing gates and into the train. The adult passenger was killed. Eight of the children, aged four through 10, were injured. During their investigations, police initially looked at the most common reasons for a crash, one of which was cited as being possible “driver distraction.”
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That driver could have been one of your staff, and those children and adult passenger could have been from your bible study and traveling from your ministry’s church event. The distraction could be as simple as getting a text message from a spouse or child, causing the driver to divert their eyes from the road for just a moment …

What Your Church Can Do

If your church has vehicles that are used by staff and volunteers it’s important that they be made aware of this new law.  Their observance of the law will help lessen the risk of an accident while they’re driving.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure your drivers and their passengers stay safe:

  • Review and discuss the new distracted driving law with your staff during your next all-hands meeting.
  • Examine your current vehicle operation policies with any staff or volunteers that operate your ministry’s cars, vans, or busses.
  • Maintain your vehicles according to manufacturer specifications and annually review your current vehicle needs with your insurance agent. Did you know that switching from 15-passenger vehicles to newer, smaller and safer vehicles may save you on insurance over the cost of replacing a vehicle?
  • Implement a Vehicle Use Policy and Driver Self Disclosure Form before any ministry-based road trip involving an owned or rented passenger vehicle.

Remember, observing the law helps your ministry avoid the legal action that would almost certainly occur as the result of an accident involving a distracted driver. In addition, safe driving means your ministry would also be protected from any unwanted, negative publicity and community blow back from a tragic accident – allowing it to maintain its effectiveness as you work to further the Kingdom.

Oh, and by the way, I can hear you from across the Internet, sadly lamenting from behind your device … “But I need to use my phone when I’m driving!”

Fear not road warriors – using a hands-free system or embedded manufacturer-installed systems to access a phone’s features and services is still allowed. You’ll just need to keep the device out of your hands and your eyes on the road.

Been a while since you reviewed your ministry’s vehicle needs with your agent? Need legal advice about the new law? We can help with that.

Has your ministry had to deal with accidents caused by distracted drivers? How did it turn out? Did we get something wrong? Let us know all about it in the comments section, below.

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