California nears new rules on texting while driving

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, September 10, 2012

California lawmakers approved a bill that is aimed at discouraging motorists from texting while at the wheel. It now moves to the governor’s desk.

The National Safety Council reports that driver distractions, as well as alcohol and speeding, are leading factors in serious injury crashes. The council estimates that 28 percent of all traffic crashes – or at least 1.6 million crashes – each year are caused by drivers using cellphones. An additional 200,000 crashes annually involve drivers who are texting.

California law already bars drivers from texting or talking on hand-held phones.

The Senate voted 28-9 to sign off on Assembly changes to a bill to increase the deterrent to engaging in distracted driving practices. If signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, SB1310 would raise fines from $20 to $30. The amount would equate to about $300 after court costs.

Repeat offenders would face $60 fines – up from $50. With fees added the fine would top out at about $500.

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

Violations are a secondary offense. However, the bill would authorize primary enforcement. In addition, repeat offenses would be considered moving violations that would result in one point being added to offenders’ licenses.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, has stated that current rules work well, but the stricter punishment is needed to “help fund a program to spread the word that no text or phone call is worth the cost of a life.”

Removed from the bill was a provision to target distracted bicyclists. Assembly lawmakers dropped a $20 fine for texting or talking on a phone while biking.

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

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