When I first read the article headlined "Police Officer Will Not Be Charged For Killing Napster Exec While Texting And Driving — Because It's Apparently OK For Police To Do That" I expected it would be a somewhat cynical view discussing how police are above the law in practice, etc.

However, when reading the official document where this result was determined, I saw the explicit carve-out cited, from CA Vehicle Code 23123.5, CA's law against texting while driving. Section (e):

This section does not apply to an emergency services professional using an electronic wireless communications device while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties.

Since this texting-while-driving death was caused by a deputy officer in the performance of his official duties, it falls under this exception and makes what the officer did legal. Why was this exemption specifically written in to the law? Why did the legislature choose to make it legal for an officer to text while driving, even if that kills somebody, while that's prohibited for others?

This law was added in 2007-2008 SB28 Sec. 2. (Parts of it other than (e) were amended in 2011-2012 AB1536 Sec. 1.) The bill that added the law can be found here. The votes are listed here, indicating passage by a pretty good sized majority.

The bill digest does not mention the exemption for emergency services professionals, nor does the fact sheet or letter to the Governor available from the sponsor's web page for the bill. Summaries in analyses of the bill do list the exclusion but don't explain why or where it comes from, other than indicating there's also an exemption in previously existing law regarding voice calls. (Note: "08/01/08- Senate Floor Analyses" appears to be about Senate Joint Resolution 28 rather than Senate Bill 28; 07/06/07 and earlier analyses seems to be about RFID licenses instead).

I found an additional bill history system here but it doesn't seem to add new information. I could not find debate records that might explain why this exclusion is in there which might help answer the question, but I hope I've demonstrated sufficient research here for it to be a good asking of the question.

If the same exception exists in another jurisdiction and you're able to explain why it exists for that one instead, that's still a welcome answer (please just be clear about the jurisdiction).

  • 8
    First, this one is more fit for law.stackexchange.com than here. OTOH, if you read the article it explains rather well that the PO was not using WhatsApp or whatever, he was using a PD provided computer to do PD things. Due to the nature of PD things, some of them may be urgent enough that need to access the PD information systems, so a blanket ban could be counterproducent (police officers are expected to respond quickly to messages from colleagues). Note that this does not mean that the PO or the PD have no responsability, it means that the criminal charges have been dropped.
    – SJuan76
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 7:13
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because belongs to law.stackexchange.com
    – SJuan76
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 7:15
  • 7
    I disagree that this fits on Law.SE. The question isn't why the law has this effect, but why the law was written that way. That would be off-topic on Law, but is on-topic here as the law was written by politicians.
    – Brythan
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 10:50
  • Is the law actually giving special treatment to police officers? Is it illegal for a civilian to use a laptop while driving?
    – TTT
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 16:10
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    I'm leaving this question open. It is perfectly possible for a question to be on-topic at 2 stack exchanges at once. Commented May 11, 2016 at 19:26

1 Answer 1


The section of the law you quote already sort of has the answer:

does not apply to an emergency services professional [..] in the course and scope of his or her duties.

While it's not explicit, we can infer that emergency service personal sometimes need to use these devices "in the course and scope of his or her duties".

In this specific case, it seems that the message was sent as part of the duties:

Wood drifted into the bicycle lane while typing a reply to a colleague who wanted to know whether any other officers were required to attend a fire reported at a high school he had just left.

Note that he wasn't "texting", but using his Mobile Digital Computer, which is basically just a computer built in to the police car. They've been around since the 80s (from before the term "laptop" became popular), so police have been "texting and driving" since then.

Arguably, he should not have done this while driving; although this depends on the circumstances. Perhaps he was driving on the way to an urgent(-ish) call? The article offers no details on this, but another article reports:

prosecutors said it was "reasonable" that Wood would have felt that an immediate response was necessary so that a Calabasas deputy wouldn't unnecessarily respond to [a fire call].

Officers do get training on this, apparently:

In mobile digital competency tests, employees are also reminded “to use caution” while operating an MDC and that “distracted driving is inherently unsafe,” according to training documents provided by the Sheriff’s Department.

  • 6
    I'll add that this law as stated has nothing to do specifically with texting or even phones in general. As such, the exception is required as ALL first responders use walkies or CB or similar to communicate with dispatch. Without said exception this would effectively outlaw all police, EMTs, firefighters, etc... I'll also add that I once smoked a fat piece of carpet lint thinking it was a nug that rolled out of my bag. You are not alone. Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 22:08

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