Bill to restrict drivers' cell phone use sent to California governor

| 9/12/2006

A bill that would require California drivers to keep their hands off their phones has cleared the Legislature and is headed to the governor’s desk.

Sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the bill would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device would still be permitted.

The Senate voted 21-15 on the last day of the legislative session to approve Assembly changes to the bill – clearing the way for the bill to move to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has indicated strong support for the effort.

Simitian said the legislation 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 – and the first time it has advanced to the governor.

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.

Among the exemptions listed in the bill are for emergency calls and using push-to-talk two-way, or “walkie-talkie,” devices that are popular in the trucking industry. The two-way device exemption would be in place until July 1, 2011.

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