Calif. Governor Vetoes Bill Boosting Penalties for Texting

Legislation in California that would have stiffened the fines and penalties attached to texting while driving was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday, blocking the bill at the last step of the legislative process.

Lawmakers in the state Legislature, who approved the bill on Aug. 28, sought to elevate the base fine for texting behind the wheel by $10: from $20 to $30 for first-time offenses and from $50 to $60 for subsequent offenses. The bill also would have charged a one-point penalty against a driver’s record on second and subsequent violations of the texting ban.

It is the second time in as many years that the governor has vetoed such texting-related legislation. Last year, Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), the author of both bills, had proposed legislation establishing steeper fines than those sought in this year’s attempt.

Governor Says Current Fines Already a ‘Deterrent’

After SB 1310 cleared the state Legislature, Simitian said in a statement that he hoped “to find common ground” with the governor on his latest proposal.

In his veto message, Brown said he was satisfied with current fine levels that he believed were already “a powerful deterrent” and “do in fact get drivers’ attention.”

According to Brown’s veto message, current law establishes a $213 total fine for cell phone use and $336 for texting behind the wheel, which includes various county and court costs that violators are required to pay; there are currently no point penalties attached to texting offenses.

“Upping the fines may satisfy the punitive instincts of some, but I severely doubt that it will further reduce violations,” Brown said in his veto statement.

Multiple point penalties can have insurance implications, as more than two points on a record eliminates the state-mandated insurance premium discount for good drivers. Losing that insurance discount can inflate premiums by 20 percent and make it harder to get the cheapest insurance in California.

State’s Public Safety Entities Targeting Distracted Driving

California barred use of hand-held devices in 2008 and texting while driving in 2009. Data from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) showed a 20 percent drop in statewide traffic fatalities after the first year that legislators implemented hands-free laws compared with the annual average over the previous three to five years.

But implementing a law has little effect without public visibility, according to Chris Cochran, Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) spokesman. OTS was one public safety entity involved in a huge push in recent years to battle distracted driving, which Cochran said is a rising problem.

“Mobile devices have made it a much bigger problem,” he said in an interview. “In order to stem the tide, to try to curtail it before it became an enormous problem, the law enforcement community and folks doing publicity, we pulled out the stops so that it could be right in the face of everybody.”

The first major multi-agency effort was in April 2011, when the state participated in the first National Distracted Awareness Month with a mix of publicity and high-visibility enforcement.

More than 60,000 tickets related to distracted driving were issued in April 2012, an increase from the 52,000 issued in April 2011, according to an OTS statement. Texting-related tickets make up about 10 percent of distracted driving tickets, according to Cochran.

In 2011, the OTS publicized the slogan “It’s Not Worth It!” for an awareness campaign against distracted driving. This year, the OTS used the slogan “Don’t Be a Distracted Driving Zombie.”

“If there’s a law that nobody knows about it’s not going to have much of an impact against the violations that the law’s supposed stop,” Cochran said.

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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