Hands-free bill update awaits governor’s decision

A bill that would raise the traffic fine for violating cell phone laws is now on Governor Jerry Brown's desk. Senate Bill 28 arrived there Monday after the state Senate voted last week 23 to 13 to pass it. Brown now has 10 days to sign it into law or veto it, said Melissa Figueroa, spokesperson for Sen. Joe Simitian, the Palo Alto democrat who authored the bill. Simitian's bill seeks to:
  • Raise the base fine for violating the hands free law from $20 to $50 for a first offense. Subsequent offenses will cost $100, up from $50;
  • Award a point to the driving record of teens under 18 who have been caught two or more times violating the law that bans then from using cell phones at all times while they are behind the wheel of a vehicle;
  • Include cyclists in the distracted driving law, levying them a fine of $20 for a first offense,and $50 for each subsequent offense;
  • Set aside a portion of the higher fine revenues to establish and fund a cell phone related distracted driving education program within the Office of Traffic Safety; and,
  • Open the state up for federal funds to combat cell phone related distracted driving.
Current cell phone use restrictions have been in place since 2008. Since then, the law has achieved about 60 percent compliance, a 20 percent reduction in fatalities and collisions, and a 50 percent reduction in distracted driving related collisions in which a cell phone was listed as the distraction, Simitian's office reported. Senate Bill 28 seeks to improve upon that.       Compliance with the existing laws has been good, but it could be better (some estimates place compliance at about 60% with the hands free law). Following the passage of California‚Äôs hands free law, CHP data indicates a roughly 20 percent reduction in both fatalities and collisions, as well as a nearly 50 percent reduction in distracted driving accidents where the identified distraction was a handheld cell phone. Establishing a public awareness program and enhancing penalties will improve compliance and provide a more meaningful deterrent.  
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