Simitian praises federal texting ban


By Bay City News Service

While a new national texting ban for commercial drivers doesn't change California's laws, a longtime local foe of distracted driving called the measure a sensible next step.

The ban enacted Tuesday by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood prohibits drivers of commercial vehicles like large trucks and buses from sending text messages, effective immediately.

Since Jan. 1, 2009, California has prohibited texting behind the wheel for any motorist, including commercial drivers.

Nonetheless, state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said the decision reflects national progress on the issue of distracted driving.

"In California we're already several steps ahead of the federal effort," he said. "This is a sensible next step and I welcome it."

Simitian authored California's anti-texting law, and traveled to Washington, D.C., in September to participate in a federal summit on distracted driving, headed by LaHood.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 20 states have texting bans in place. However, Simitian said he hopes federal discussions of distracted driving don't give short shrift to the dangers of talking on a hand-held phone while behind the wheel.

"California is still in the minority of states" that prohibit talking on a hand-held device while driving, he said.

However, Simitian said the shift in national attitudes toward cell phones and driver safety is gratifying. He began working on the issue in 2000, he said.

"A decade later we have some acknowledgement by the federal government that the problem is real," he said.

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