SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — Nearly three years after California made it illegal to use a handheld cell phone while driving, the state Senate on Monday approved a bill that would increase fines for texting or using a handheld cell phone while driving.
The base fine would increase from $20 to $50 per violation under the bill, which now goes to the Assembly. With various fees, a first offense would cost $328, up from the current $208.
A repeat offender could be fined $100, or $528 with fees. A subsequent violation would also add one point to the motorist’s driving record.
“The goal here is simply to save more lives,” said Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.
He said his original bill, which took effect in July 2008, deterred 60 percent to 70 percent of drivers from using handheld devices while driving, even as the use of cell phones increased.
However, he said it will take more deterrence and education to bring compliance near the 90-plus percent seen for the use of seat belts. Under the bill, $10 from each fine would go to a fund to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.
His SB28 also would make it illegal to talk on a handheld cell phone while riding a bicycle.
Simitian cites California Highway Patrol statistics showing a 20 percent reduction in fatalities and collisions in the first year after his handsfree law took effect in July 2008. The texting-while-driving prohibition took effect in January 2009. He said the statistics show the law helped save at least 700 lives and avoid more than 75,000 collisions annually compared to previous years.
A Senate analysis of 2005 and 2010 crash statistics found “a significant downward trend,” but couldn’t attribute the trend to less cell phone use. The analysis found a less significant drop when comparing only those crashes were cell phone use was listed as a contributing cause.
CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader said that is because drivers are often reluctant to admit they were using a cell phone illegally. Neither the CHP nor Simitian’s office had statistics on crashes involving bicyclists using cell phones.
Simitian’s bill passed on a 24-12 vote, over the objections of several Republicans who said the bill goes too far and is disliked by drivers.
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