Cell phone ban for young California drivers advances

| 7/18/2007

A bill nearing passage in the California Assembly would prohibit cell phone use by young drivers in the state.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee forwarded a bill to the chamber floor that would make it illegal for drivers younger than 18 to use any type of cell phone, pager or text messaging device while behind the wheel. If the bill wins approval before the full Assembly it would head back to the Senate for approval of changes before it could move to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, is the bill sponsor. He also sponsored 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 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 – SB33 – would ban mobile devices for 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. It would exempt emergency phone calls.

The governor 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,” Schwarzenegger 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 reported 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’s report said.

Currently, about 14 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. Washington is slated to begin enforcement of its own law in 2008.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor