Californians May See Harsher Penalties for Texting While Driving

Californians could soon face tougher penalties for talking on handheld cell phones or texting while driving.

A bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature would nearly double penalties for hands-free and no-texting violations, add a point to the driving record of serial offenders and expand the bans to include bicyclists.

Two California laws that took effect in 2009 banned texting or talking on a handheld cell phone behind the wheel, but supporters of the proposed legislation say stiffer penalties are needed to increase public safety.

“While the numbers show that compliance is good and that California’s hands-free law is working, we can do better and save even more lives,” state Sen. Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat, said in a statement.

Texting while drivingIn a survey conducted earlier this year by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), about 30 percent of motorists admitted to texting or conversing on cell phones regularly behind the wheel.

Thirty-four states, the District of Columbia and Guam have laws barring texting by drivers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Nine states, D.C. and the Virgin Islands have outlawed handheld cell phone use on the part of motorists.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 20 percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved distracted driving such as texting, changing radio stations or eating and drinking. Cell phones were involved in 18 percent of fatal distracted driving crashes, NHTSA reported.

The proposed law would increase the fine for a first offense from $20 to $50 and double the existing $50 fine for a subsequent offense. With fees and other penalties, the total cost for a first offense would go from a statewide average of about $189 to around $309, according to Simitian.

The bill also calls for adding a point to motorists’ driving records for subsequent violations.

Driving records –and any citations they may contain for violations such as speeding or texting while driving—are a major factor in determining how much a motorist pays for auto coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

Those with blemishes on their records can find it very difficult to find cheap insurance for young drivers and older motorists alike.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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