California governor curbs stiffer punishment for distracted driving

| 9/9/2011

Violators of California’s ban on using hand-held phones and texting while driving no longer have to worry about paying harsher penalties. First-time offenders will continue to pay about $160 after court costs.

Gov. Jerry Brown this week vetoed a bill to increase fines from $20 to $50. Fine amounts would have topped out at about $310 after court costs.

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

Brown issued a short statement explaining his veto of SB28: “I certainly support discouraging cell phone use while driving a car, but not ratcheting up the penalties as prescribed by this bill.

“For people of ordinary means, current fines and penalty assessments should be sufficient deterrent.”

The state’s youngest drivers would also have 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 a person would have to be pulled over for another violation before they could be ticketed. The bill would have authorized primary enforcement.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, called the veto “a lost opportunity to save more lives.”

Simitian, the bill sponsor, said he would “review the governor’s veto message to see if there is any room for compromise in the coming year.”

Simitian previously noted that the stricter rules would also allow the state to qualify for potential federal funding on distracted driving.

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

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