As California drivers are well aware, they are no longer able to use handheld cell phones while driving due to the California Wireless Telephone Automobile Safety Act. Employers should consider updating their employment policies, even though not required to do so, to reduce the risk of being pulled into controversies over employee cell phone use while driving.

Specifically, the law prohibits California drivers from using cell phones while driving unless the phone is configured to allow hands-free listening and talking. Drivers under the age of 18, however, will be prohibited from using any cell phone while driving as well as any “mobile service device” including Blackberry devices and pagers.

The law does not apply to cell phone calls for emergency purposes. The law also does not apply to certain drivers (if age 18 or older) including emergency services professionals; school bus and transit vehicle drivers; drivers on private property; and drivers using a specific type of two-way radio while driving certain types of vehicles.

Employers should consider updating their employee handbooks and cell phone policies to require employees to comply with this law in business circumstances or when using company property (e.g., company car or company cell phone), although the policy should be tailored to each employer.

Employers also may want to provide hands-free listening devices to employees who are expected, in the course of business, to use cell phones while driving.

Note: Connecticut, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Washington and Washington DC all have laws restricting cell phone use while driving, and employers in those states should similarly consider implementing cell phone policies if they have not already done so.