California bills cover ticket cams, distractions

| 8/8/2011

Two bills nearing passage at the California statehouse address the use of automated enforcement and beefing up penalties for violators of the state’s ban on texting while driving.

Awaiting a vote on the Senate floor is a bill to address the use of ticket cameras in the San Francisco area.

California law already allows the city and county of San Francisco to issue citations based on photos snapped of parking violations in transit-only lanes. City-owned public transit vehicles can be outfitted with cameras to record parking violations occurring in the nearly 15 miles of affected lanes.

The San Francisco program is slated to sunset at the end of this year. In response, an Assembly-approved bill would extend use of the cameras through 2015.

In the bill analysis, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, stated that “parking in these lanes can significantly increase the time it takes to make even a short bus journey and inconvenience other road users.”

AB1041 can be considered as soon as lawmakers come back from their summer break on Aug. 15.

Also likely to get a vote soon is a bill to increase fines for texting or talking on a hand-held phone while driving. If approved, fines would rise from $20 to $50. The amount would be raised to more than $300 after court costs.

Repeat offenders would face $100 fines – up from $50. With fees added the fine would top out at more than $500. In addition, violators would have one point added to their license.

Drivers under 18 caught more than once in violation of the rule would have one point added to their operator’s license.

The California Highway Patrol issued about 12,000 to 14,000 citations each month during 2010 for cellphone violations.

Supporters say they are hopeful the deterrent of higher fines will persuade more drivers to put down the phone.

Included in the bill – SB28 – is a requirement for the state Department of Motor Vehicles to include questions on the driving exam addressing the distractions and dangers of cellphone use and texting while behind the wheel.

Texting has also been a topic of discussion at the federal level. A federal rule that bans the practice while driving a commercial vehicle was issued a year ago.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports the federal ban, but OOIDA opposes the next step being taken by the FMCSA to restrict drivers’ use of hand-held cellphones.

Also targeted by the California bill are bicyclists. Texting while biking could result in $20 fines with no fees added.

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

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