California bill would restrict drivers' cell phone use

| 8/9/2006

A bill that is nearing passage in the California Legislature would require drivers in the state to keep their hands off their phones.

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 received preliminary approval Monday, Aug. 7, on the Assembly floor. The bill has been sent to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration. If approved there, it would move back to the chamber floor for a final vote before heading to the Senate for approval of changes. If all the requirements are met prior to the end of the regular session Aug. 31, it would go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for his signature.

Simitian said the bill is critical to increasing safety on the state's roads.

“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 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.