Drivers' cell-phone restriction nears passage in California

| 8/4/2006

A bill in the California Assembly that would require drivers in the state to keep their hands off their phones will likely draw consideration once lawmakers return to the capitol Tuesday, Aug. 7.

The Legislature must finish up its work before the regular session ends Aug. 31.

The measure 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 Transportation Committee. If approved in the Assembly, it would need final passage in the Senate before it could go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has indicated strong support for the effort.

“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 – the distraction of talking on it is. Others say that behaviors such as eating, drinking and attending to children are more common 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.