Drivers' cell phone use restricted in California

| 9/18/2006

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law Friday, Sept. 15, to require California drivers to keep their hands off their phones. California becomes the fourth state to enact such a restriction.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, 2008, bans hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” device will still be permitted.

Sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the bill won passage in the Legislature on the final day of the regular session ending the lawmaker’s six-year effort to get the bill approved.

Simitian said the legislation “is a common sense measure, which will make our roads safer and save lives.”

Statistics from the California Highway Patrol show that cell phone use is the leading cause of accidents in the state triggered by distracted drivers.

“The simple fact is, it’s dangerous to talk on your cell phone while driving,” Schwarzenegger said at the bill signing. “So getting people’s hands off their phones onto their steering wheels is going to make a big difference in road safety.”

The new law, previously SB1613, makes 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 will face $20 fines. Repeat offenders will face $50 fines.

Among the exemptions listed in the bill are 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 will be in place until July 1, 2011.

With the governor’s signature, California joins Connecticut, New Jersey and New York as the only states with statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles.