Cell phone ban sought for young California drivers

| 8/15/2007

A bill in the California Assembly that would prohibit cell phone use by young drivers in the state will likely draw consideration once lawmakers return to the capitol Monday, Aug. 20.

The bill would make it illegal for drivers under 18 to use any type of cell phone, pager or text messaging device while behind the wheel. The measure is awaiting consideration before the full Assembly. If approved there, it would head back to the Senate for approval of changes before it could move to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.

The Legislature must finish up their work before the regular session ends Sept. 14.

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 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 – SB33 – would take away mobile 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. 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 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 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 their own law in 2008.

To view other legislative activities of interest for this state, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor