A driver talking on a handheld cell phone threatens everyone on the road with severe personal injuries and wrongful deaths.
A study by Harvard University in 2003 estimated that drivers distracted by cell phones caused 330,000 car accidents, thousands of spinal cord injuries and brain injuries, and 2,600 wrongful deaths a year.
There are many more people using cell phones today than in 2003.
In March 2010 in Kentucky, a truck crashed into a van carrying 12 people to a wedding and killed 10 of them, plus the truck driver.
Toxicology reports found no drugs or alcohol in the truck driver’s system, but investigators determined that he was talking on his cell phone at the time of the crash. Because Kentucky places no restrictions on the use of handheld phones, the truck driver wasn’t breaking any traffic laws, other than being grossly negligent when he had the highest duty to protect every soul on board his vehicle.
California is one of the few states with a state statute that makes any use of a handheld cell phone by a driver a punishable offense. Our law bans both talking and texting. It‘s been in effect for almost 2 years, and it has significantly reduced the number of wrongful deaths and personal injuries.
In the six months before the hands-free law took effect on July 1, 2008, the California Highway Patrol attributed 612 car accidents on drivers using handheld cell phones. In the first 6 months the law was in effect, that number dropped to 315.
“It means that somewhere in California, a couple of people are going to sit down with their families tonight who wouldn’t have without this law. To me that’s very satisfying,” said Senator Joe Simitian, who sponsored the bill.
Yet major cell phone use continues. Through 2009, the California Highway Patrol issued nearly 275,000 tickets for violating the law. A new and tougher bill recently introduced by Senator Simitian will significantly increase the fines for any driver who uses a handheld cell phone.
The new bill will increase the fine for holding a cell phone from $20 to $50 for a first offense, and from $50 to $100 for repeat offenders. Anyone who uses a phone to send a text message while driving will receive a $100 fine, up from the current $20 for first offenders and $50 for repeated violators.
And as every lawbreaker learns, that $20 fine actually turns out to be much more. Court costs and fees to cities and counties significantly increase the price of traffic tickets, and a fine listed at $20 can easily reach $140. With the new bill in place, a $50 fine may wind up costing a driver as much as $250, and a $100 fine may cost as much as $450.
Senator Simitian’s original bill has helped to make California’s crowded roads safer, and the larger fines in the new bill should deter more people from talking on a handheld cell phone while driving.
Talking on a handheld cell phone while driving is hazardous everywhere, and it’s illegal in California.
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