Calif. Legislators Pass Second Bill Upping Texting Fines, Penalties

Legislation in California that ups fines and stiffens penalties for texting behind the wheel was approved by lawmakers Tuesday and now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for final consideration.

SB 1310, from Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), inflates the base fine levied against motorists who break laws prohibiting use of hand-held cell phones and texting while driving: under the bill, a first offense goes from $20 to $30 while subsequent offenses go from $50 to $60, and a point will be added to a driver’s record on a second or subsequent violation.

The actual cost, however, is much higher with fees that accompany the typical ticket. Currently, the typical total cost for a ticket for this violation comes in at about $159 for a first offense and $279 for a second offense, according to a press release from Simitian’s office. That’s a result of various county fees that get tacked on to the base fine.

Under the bill, first-time offenders would pay about $40 more in total costs, bringing the total cost of a first offense to around $200, according to Sen. Simitian. A two-time offender’s total costs would rise from about $279 to $371, although costs will differ between counties.

Additional penalties may inflate insurance costs even more for motorists with spotty driving records, since Simitian’s legislation would impose a one-point penalty on an offender’s driving record for second and subsequent violations.

Those points can be viewed by insurance providers as a reason to increase rates when pricing California car insurance policies.

If drivers who already have a point on their record get a second ticket for texting, it could end up costing them 20 percent more in premiums.

That’s because under California’s Proposition 103, drivers who have been on the road for at least three years and have kept clean records are entitled to a 20 percent discount on premiums.

A motorist with one point on his or her driving record still qualifies for the common “good driver discount,” but any additional points and the motorist loses that insurance discount.

Such discounts are “pretty standard” across all insurance carriers in the state, according to Pete Moraga, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC).

Bill Is Senator’s Second Stab at Stiffening Texting Fines

Gov. Brown vetoed similar legislation, SB 28, from Simitian last year, when the senator proposed raising the base fine for a first offense from $20 to $50 and from $50 to $100 for subsequent offenses.

Simitian said that he has “been in discussions” with Brown’s office and hopes “to find common ground” with the governor over this year’s legislation.

Senators passed SB 1310 with a 50-24 vote on Aug. 23. Members of the state Assembly approved it on May 14 by a 24-10 vote before approving the latest version on Aug. 28 by a 28-9 vote.

That latest version struck a provision in the original bill that would have applied the same fines and penalties to those who use wireless devices while bicycling.

Legislation Seeks to Fight Resilient Problem

State laws forbid talking on a hand-held device and texting while driving with legislation that went into effect in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) published a study in March examining the impact of those laws, showing that roadway fatalities related to use of hand-held cell phones fell a significant 47 percent when comparing the two years before and after the legislation went into effect.

In addition, California Highway Patrol (CHP) data showed a 20 percent drop in deaths and crashes in 2008-09 when compared to the annual average from the previous three to five years.

“Research has shown that our distracted driving laws are working. Yet we know there are still far too many drivers texting and talking on hand-held cell phones,” Simitian said in a statement. “I believe we can do better and save even more lives.”

The drop in distraction-related roadway incidents may not have staying power without further action from legislators, Moraga said.

“Studies have shown that there is a drop when laws go through, but afterwards, people go back to old habits,” he said. SB 1310 “is obviously something that is being done to combat that problem.”

Some parts of the bill seek to educate the state’s newest motorists about distracted driving. One provision changes the examination testing driver’s license applicants to include questions about distracted driving. Another provision sends fine revenue to support an OTS-established education program on distracted driving.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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