The youngest drivers in California will have to put down the cell phone and keep their hands on the wheel after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill banning use of such devices for those under 18.
The law will take effect July 1, the same day another California law will require adults to use handsfree devices when talking on their cell phones while driving.
The outright ban for drivers ages 16 and 17 is in part a response to the popularity of text-messaging among teens.
"The simple fact is that teenage drivers are more easily distracted. They are young, inexperienced and have a slower reaction time," Schwarzenegger said in a statement Thursday after he signed the legislation into law.
"We want to eliminate any extra distractions so they can focus on paying attention to the road and being good drivers."
The governor cited statistics by the California Highway Patrol that cell phone use is a primary cause of accidents caused by distracted drivers.
He also referred to a Ford Motor Co. study saying teens are four times more likely to be distracted than adults by cell phone use.
A 2001 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 16-year-old drivers have a crash rate three times higher than that of 17-year-olds, five times greater than 18-year-olds and almost 10 times greater than drivers ages 30-59.
The bill, by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, prohibits 16- and 17-year-olds from using any electronic device while driving.
That will include cell phones, text messaging devices, laptop computers, pagers, walkie-talkies and handheld computers.
It applies even to equipment with "handsfree" features.
Violators will be fined $20 for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.
Schwarzenegger's signature means California joins 15 states and the District of Columbia in banning the use of wireless communication devices for teenage drivers.
Nearly a dozen other states are considering similar action, according to the American Automobile Association.
The ban on teenage drivers and the handsfree law for adults include exceptions for drivers who need to make emergency calls.