California bill banning cell phone use for young drivers nears passage

| 6/27/2007

A bill to prohibit cell phone use by young drivers in California is one step closer to passage in the statehouse.

The Assembly Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bill – SB33 – that would make it illegal for drivers under 18 to use any type of cell phone, pager or text messaging device. The bill now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The Senate previously approved it.

The bill sponsor, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, is also the sponsor of a bill signed into law in fall 2006 that prohibits drivers of all ages from using hand-held cell phones. The new law, which takes effect in July 2008, permits talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free device.

Among the exemptions listed in the new law are for using push-to-talk, two-way “walkie-talkie” devices that are popular in the trucking industry. The two-way device exemption will be in place until July 1, 2011.

Simitian’s latest effort would take away mobile devices from the state’s youngest motorists.

Like the new law, the bill would make violation of the restriction a secondary offense – meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. Violators would face $20 fines. Repeat offenders would face $50 fines. It would exempt emergency phone calls.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears receptive to the bill, according to media reports.

“I think that we have to make an effort to do everything we can to make people pay attention to traffic,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

This action in California follows a National Transportation Safety Board report that recommended novice drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while on the road.

The safety board says that young drivers account for only 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 15 percent of fatal accidents. Distracted drivers take 1.5 seconds longer to respond to hazards, the agency says.

Currently, about 14 states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. In addition to California, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are the only other states that have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones. Washington is slated to begin enforcement of its own law in 2008.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor