Cell phone use while driving up; talking/texting while driving fines could rise

The same day the California Office of Traffic Safety released a study showing that distracted driving is on the rise, the state Senate approves a bill that seeks to hike fines for driving while talking and/or texting on cell phones. On Monday, the Office of Traffic Safety reported that researchers sat at 130 intersections in 17 counties statewide watching driver habits. They were looking for motorists who had a phone to their ear, were wearing a headset device, were manipulating a hand-held device or were talking while holding a phone in their hand but not to their ear. Observers noted the overall rate of drivers using cell phones on the road during any given daylight time was 10.8 percent, up from 7.3 percent in 2011, the second year the agency preformed the study. While observers noted cell phone use increases for all age groups, they recorded a dramatic rise among 16-25 year olds – doubling from nine percent in 2011 to 18 percent this year. The study results came the same day the state Senate voted 24-9 in favor of Senate Bill 1310, by Sen. Joe Simitian, a democrat out of Palo Alto. His bill seeks to raise the base fine for people cited for talking or texting on their cell phone from $20 to $30 for the first offense and from $50 to $60 for each subsequent offense. After penalties and fees, the total cost of a first time offender's ticket would be around $159 to $199, depending on which county they live in. Tickets written to repeat offenders would run $279 to $371, again, depending on county of residence. What's more, if the law is enacted, people caught a two or more times using their cell phones while behind the wheel would get a point on their driving record. SB 1310 also makes it illegal for bicyclists to ride while distracted and levies a fine of $20 for the first offense and $50 for each thereafter, with no added fees. Cyclists would not, however, receive a point on their driver's licenses for the added violations. Revenues from these citations would pay to establish and fund a distracted driving education program within the Office of Traffic Safety. The bill, which is supported by the California Bicycle Coalition, now moves on to the state Assembly for a vote. Simitian submitted a similar bill last year but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it in September, claiming the fines were too high for people of “ordinary means.” Last year's bill, Senate Bill 28, would have increased fines for cell phone use while driving from $20 to $50 for a first offense and from $50 to $100 for each subsequent offense. It, too, sought to ban bicyclists from using their cell phones while riding. The senator is behind SB 1618, the original hands-free cell phone bill enacted in 2008. Simitian's latest offering comes as the Office of Traffic Safety in March reported that traffic collisions and deaths related to cell phone use have been on the decline ever since. Meanwhile, earlier this month, local CHP officers handed out 582 citations to people who were talking on their cell phones while driving during the month of April, Distracted Driver Awareness Month, the agency reported. Another 55 citations were written to people who were texting while driving and six others were cited for other distracted driving-related offenses.
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