<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Strengthening Hands Free Laws


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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 22, 2010

For More Information, Contact:

Melissa Figueroa (916) 651-4011

SIMITIAN LEGISLATION TO STRENGTHEN HANDS-FREE/TEXTING LAWS

SACRAMENTO – State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) announced today the introduction of Senate Bill 1475 which strengthens the state’s hands-free and anti-texting laws for motorists. The bill:

· Increases the fine for a first hands-free offense to $50, and to $100 for a subsequent offenses (currently $20 and $50 respectively),

· Increases the fine for texting while driving to $100 (currently $20 for a first offense and $50 for a subsequent offense),

· Provides that a violation of either of the two laws will add a “point” on motorists’ driving records,

· Uses a portion of the increased fine revenue to provide for a public awareness program; and

· Applies the hands-free/no texting laws to bicyclists.

Simitian’s Senate Bill 1475 comes on the heels of increased public concern about the dangers of distracted driving. Early this year, the National Safety Council released a report indicating that 28 percent of automobile accidents in the United States involve talking or texting on a cell phone. And a nationwide study conducted in 2009 by AAA indicated that 97.7 percent of Americans believed texting or emailing while driving was a serious threat to their personal safety.

Last September, Simitian attended the U.S. Department of Transportation’s national summit in Washington D.C. on distracted driving. The purpose of the event was to find ways to reduce the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers.

“The good news,” said Simitian, “is that recently released collision and fatality data from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) confirms that California’s streets and highways are safer following the implementation of California’s ‘hands-free’ cell phone law.”

CHP certified numbers from the first six months of the law’s implementation show a 20 percent reduction in fatalities and collisions in California when compared to the same six month period over the past three to five years. Data from 2009 (not yet certified) confirms the trend. “That translates to at least 700 fewer fatalities and 75,000 to 100,000 fewer collisions each year,” said Simitian.

“Equally compelling,” notes Simitian, “is the CHP data that shows an immediate drop of 40-50 percent in the number of distracted driving accidents attributed to cell phones following the July 1, 2008 implementation of the law.

While Simitian says he finds the results to date “gratifying,” he hopes that Senate Bill 1475, “will make a good law even better. Compliance to date has been good,” he notes, “but there’s room for improvement.” Simitian says he thinks the new law will provide “a more significant deterrent.”

Simitian is the author of three pieces of distracted driving legislation:

· In 2006, Simitian authored Senate Bill 1613 making it illegal for California drivers to talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device (effective 7/1/08),

· In 2007 Simitian’s Senate Bill 33 made it illegal for new drivers under the age of 18 to talk on a cell phone while driving, even with a hands-free device, or use any other mobile service device (effective 7/1/08); and

· In 2008 Simitian’s Senate Bill 28 made it illegal for drivers in California to send, read or write text messages while driving (effective 1/1/09).

“Driving is a complex task, requiring a motorist’s full attention,” said Captain Avery Browne of the California Highway Patrol. “Anything that diverts the driver’s eyes or attention from the roadway, even for one or two seconds, could result in tragedy.”

Senate Bill 1475 is also designed to increase the likelihood that California will be eligible for federal distracted driving public education funds if and when they become available. For more information on Simitian’s public safety legislation, visit www.senatorsimitian.com/legislation.