California bill would ban cell phone use for young drivers

| 1/5/2007

Among the first bills to be filed in California for consideration during the 2007 session is an effort intended to prohibit cell phone use by young drivers in the state.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, has introduced a bill that would make it illegal for drivers with instruction permits, student or provisional licenses to use any cell phone - even "hands-free" devices - while behind the wheel. It would exempt emergency phone calls.

Simitian is also the sponsor of a bill signed into law in the fall of 2006 that prohibits drivers of all ages from using hand-held cell phones. The new law, which takes effect in July 2008, permits talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free device.

Among the exemptions listed in the new law is 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.

Simitian's newest effort - SB33 - would take away phone privileges from the state's youngest motorists.

Like the new law, the bill would make violation of the restriction a secondary offense - 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.

This latest action in California follows a National Transportation Safety Board report that recommended novice drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while on the road.

The safety board says that young drivers account for only 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 15 percent of fatal accidents. Distracted drivers take 1.5 seconds longer to respond to hazards, the agency says.

Currently, about a dozen states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. In addition to California, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are the only other states that have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones.

SB33 is in the Senate Rules Committee.