California Senate approves bill banning cell phone use for young drivers

| Monday, May 21, 2007

A bill intended to prohibit cell phone use by young drivers in California is half way through the statehouse.

The Senate voted 21-15 to approve a bill – SB33 – that would make it illegal for drivers under 18 to use any type of cell phone, send text messages or work on laptops. It would exempt emergency phone calls.

The bill sponsor, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, is also the sponsor of a bill signed into law in fall 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 are for 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 latest effort would take away mobile service devices 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.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears receptive to the bill.

“I think that we have to make an effort to do everything we can to make people pay attention to traffic,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

This 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, 13 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.

Simitian’s bill has been forwarded to the Assembly Transportation Committee.

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