Cell phone ban for young California drivers gets OK

| 9/6/2007

California’s youngest drivers would be prohibited from using mobile devices while at the wheel under a bill headed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.

The state Senate voted 23-14 to concur on amendments to the bill that would make it illegal for teens under 18 to use any type of cell phone, pager, text messaging device or laptop while at the wheel. Assembly lawmakers previously approved it on a 62-5 vote.

The governor hasn’t indicated whether he will sign the bill into law, but he previously said he doesn’t allow his daughter to talk on the phone while driving.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, is the bill sponsor. He also sponsored a bill signed into law by Schwarzenegger in fall 2006 that prohibits drivers of all ages from using hand-held cell phones. That 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.

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.

Opponents of the bill say there already are laws to prevent distracted and unsafe driving. Others say using the phone while at the wheel isn’t a distraction for drivers, including teens, who are responsible.

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, click here.