California one step closer to stiffer punishment for distracted driving

| Thursday, August 18, 2011

Violators of California’s ban on using hand-held phones and texting while driving could soon face harsher penalties.

The California Senate voted 23-13 to advance a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown to increase fines from $20 to $50. Fine amounts would top out at about $310 after court costs.

Assembly lawmakers already approved the bill, SB28.

Repeat offenders would face $100 fines – up from $50. With fees added the fine would top out at nearly $530. In addition, repeat offenses would be considered moving violations, which would result in one point being added to offenders’ licenses.

The state’s youngest drivers would also come under increased scrutiny. Drivers under 18 are forbidden to use any type of cell phone, pager, text messaging device or laptop while at the wheel.

Violations are a secondary offense,  meaning people would have to be pulled over for another violation before they could be ticketed. Joe Simitian’s bill would authorize primary enforcement.

California Highway Patrol data showed that distracted driving accidents attributed to cellphones dropped 40 to 50 percent when the state’s current restrictions took effect.

Sen. Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said he is hopeful the deterrent of higher fines will persuade more drivers to put down the phone.

“While the numbers show that compliance is good and that California’s hands-free law is working, we can do better and save even more lives,” Simitian said in a statement.

Simitian noted that the bill’s passage would also allow the state to qualify for potential federal funding on distracted driving.

Also targeted by the bill are bicyclists. Texting or talking on a phone 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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