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Tougher Talking and Texting-While-Driving Bill Heads to Governor’s Desk

Simiitian's bill would expand existing cell phone law for motorists.

A law that would toughen penalties for drivers caught texting or talking without a hands-free device on their cell phone has landed on the Governor’s desk.

The measure, SB 28, was authored by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), and grew out of what he thinks is the success of similar laws he wrote and that have taken effect, according to a statement released Monday.

“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,” said Simitian, following the bill’s passage.

Simitian sites research by the AAA Automobile Club of Southern California and the California Office of Traffic Safety, which suggest that the state’s hands-free driving law maintains 60 to 70 percent compliance.

The aim of the bill is to boost that number by increasing fines for motorists who use cell phones illegally. Simitian joined CHP officers during a statewide crackdown in April.

Here’s a breakdown of the proposed new law:

  • Increase the base fines for violation of the hands free cell phone and texting-while-driving laws from $20 to $50 for a first offense, and from $50 to $100 for subsequent offenses;
  • Make a violation of the hands free cell phone law, the texting law, or the teen safety law a driver’s license “point” on a second or subsequent offense;
  • Apply these distracted driving laws to bicyclists at a lower total fine level of $20 for a first offense, and $50 for each subsequent offense;
  • Use a portion of the increased fine revenue to establish and fund a cell phone related distracted driving education program in the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS); and; 
  • Allow the state to qualify for anticipated federal funding on cell phone related distracted driving.

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