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Tougher Hands-Free Law Clears State Senate

Bill by State Sen. Joe Simitian would boost fines for using cell phones while driving.

The California State Senate Monday passed a bill authored by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) that would increase the fines on motorists who talk or text while driving.

The bill, SB 1310, passed on a 24-9 vote, and increases the fines for breaking the hands-free and no texting laws from $20 to $30 for a first-time offense, and from $50 to $60 for subsequent offenses.

The extra money from the tougher law would be used to fund a distracted driving education program in the California Office of Traffic Safety, according to a statement released by Simitian’s press office Monday.

The total cost of a first offense, including penalties, would rise to roughly $199, depending on the county. Second offenses would cost about $371.

Also, a second violation would add a point to a driver’s record. 

“Research has shown that our distracted driving laws are changing behavior and saving lives,” Simitian said. “Yet we know there are still far too many drivers texting and talking on hand-held cell phones. This bill would toughen penalties, add the deterrent of a point on a driving record, and help fund a program to spread the word that no text or phone call is worth the cost of a life.”

If signed into law, SB1310 would also extend fines to bicyclists who ride distracted, but at a lower fine level of $20 for first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense, and with no fees. Cyclists would not get a point on their record for second offenses, and the bill is being supported by the California Bicycle Coaltion.

A March study by the California Office of Traffic Safety found that deaths due to hand-held cell phone use by motorists plummeted following Simitian’s first hands-free bill being signed into law, according to the statement.

In the two years before and after the law took effect, traffic deaths declined by 22 percent, and deaths attributed to driver hand-held phone use dropped 47 percent.

The analysis examined state crash records two years before and two years after Simitian’s hands-free legislation took effect, and found that overall traffic deaths declined by 22 percent, while deaths specifically attributed to driver hand-held cell phone use went down 47 percent.

More data from the California Highway Patrol also supports this conclusion—in the first year after the law took effect, there was a 20 percent drop in deaths and crashes compared to the previous three to five years, according to the statement.

The new bill continues Simitian’s ongoing effort to strengthen car safety laws. He also introduced SB33, which makes it illegal for minors to use any mobile service technology while driving, even if they are using a headset. He also authored SB 28, which makes it illegal to text message while driving.

Governor Jerry Brown today, but Simitian is hopeful that the new bill, which was crafted after consultation with the governor’s office, will be signed into law.

“I’ve been in discussions with the Governor’s office and hope to find common ground with the Governor this year,” said Simitian.


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