Drivers' cell-phone restriction effort advances in California

| 7/12/2006

A rule requiring drivers in California to keep their hands off their phones is one step closer to becoming reality.

The California Assembly Transportation Committee voted 8-5 to approve a bill that would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

Sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the bill has been sent to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. If approved in the Assembly, it would need final passage in the Senate before it could go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hasn’t taken a position on the bill.

“The difference between hand-held and hands-free is life and death,” Simitian told The Sacramento Bee. This is the sixth time he has introduced the legislation.

Opponents say the legislation is unnecessary. They say that multiple national studies suggest that holding the phone isn’t the problem – talking on it is. Others say that behaviors such as eating, drinking and attending to children are more common sure distractions than cell phone use.

The bill – SB1613 – would make it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – 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.

Emergency calls would be exempted. Another exemption was removed from the bill that would have allowed push-to-talk, or “walkie-talkie,” devices.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles.