New research indicates that between 300 and 900 lives will be saved each year by a law — SB 1613, effective July 1 — that requires use of hands-free cell-phones by drivers, according to state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.
And that's not counting a companion law, SB 33, that bans drivers under 18 from using cell phones at all, which also takes effect July 1. Both laws were proposed by Simitian.
The hands-free law takes effect July 1 after several years of Simitian pushing for its passage against industry and other opposition.
Research by Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) looked at the impact of similar laws in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and the District of Columbia.
"We now know from the experience of three other states and the District of Columbia that we'll be saving hundreds of lives a year once California's hands-free law takes effect," Simitian said.
"Cell phones are the number-one cause of distracted-driving accidents in California. And accidents by drivers using hand-held cell phones outnumber those driving hands-free by a ratio of something like 15 to one.
"The difference between hand-held and hands-free is the difference between life and death," he said.
The PPIC did not calculate the effect on property damage and non-fatal accidents, but Simitian said he expects the new law will result in "several thousand fewer injury accidents and tens of thousands fewer accidents involving property damage."
Penalties for violation of the pending law are $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. But once court costs and administrative fees are factored in, drivers can expect to pay about $75 for a first offense and $175 for subsequent offenses.