The fines for texting on or holding a cell phone while driving in California could get much steeper if Gov. Jerry Brown signs a bill the California State Legislature passed Monday.
Under Senate Bill 28, by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the cost of a first offense would rise from roughly $189 to approximately $309 -- amounts vary slightly by county -- when penalities and fees are included. The actual first-offense fine would be $50, up from the current $20. Subsequent offenses would cost $100, up from $50, and add a "point" to the driver's record.
For the first time, the law would apply to cyclists as well, though they would pay only $20 for a first offense and $50 thereafter, with no added fees and no point added to their driving records.
Sen. Simitian is the author of three previous distracted-driving laws. He said Monday that while the current hands-free phone laws are working, a stronger law would increase compliance and decrease the number of accidents, according to a press statement from his office.
Simitian's Senate Bill 1613 (2006) made it illegal for California drivers to talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving. It took effect July 1, 2008.
Senate Bill 33 (2007) prohibited drivers under the age of 18 from texting, talking on a cell phone or using any "mobile service" technology while driving, even with a hands-free device. It also took effect July 1, 2008.
Senate Bill 28 (2008) made it illegal for all drivers in California to send, read or write text messages while driving. It went into effect Jan. 1, 2009.
Research suggests 60 to 70 percent of drivers comply with the hands-free law, according to the AAA Automobile Club of Southern California and the State's Office of Traffic Safety.
Data from the California Highway Patrol showed a drop of 40-50 percent in the number of distracted-driving accidents caused by use of hand-held cell phones after the law went into effect in 2008. There were 612 accidents from January to June 30, 2008, and only 315 in the following six months.
Those numbers only reflect drivers who were willing to admit they were using their cell phone while driving, Simitian's office noted. Overall there were more than 30,000 accidents due to inattention in 2008, with causes ranging from cell-phone use to reading to dealing with a child in the car to attending to personal hygiene.
Senate Bill 28 also provides funding for distracted-driver education through the Office of Traffic Safety; creates a primary offense for teenage drivers who violate SB 33 (2007); and allows the state to qualify for potential federal funding on distracted driving.