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California can’t seem to decide whether texting while driving is safe. Back in 2009, California implemented its first ban on the practice. That law banned any reading or sending text messages while driving. However, the Auto Club found that the percentage of drivers who texted while driving actually doubled in the year after the legislation. That study, which observed about 4,000 drivers per day in Orange County, California, cited the difficulty for police in catching people who text while driving compared to the relative ease by which they can see whether someone is talking on the phone.
California State Senator Simitan used this study to conclude that California needs a stricter deterrent to keep people from texting on the roadways. While the original fines were $20 for the first offense and $50 for the second and subsequent offenses, Senator Simitan proposed raising the fines by $10 for each offense. The bill would also add a point to the driver’s record for each violation after the first one. However, California Governor Jerry Brown has now vetoed Simitan’s bill for the second year in a row. Governor Brown claims that the current fines should be sufficient “for people of ordinary means.” Governor Brown cited the fact that a $30 fine would actually total as much as $251 out-of-pocket, after county taxes and fees, while a $60 fine could be as much as $372.
Moving away from being more punitive, on January 1, 2013, California added an exception to the texting ban for the use of hands-free devices. This bill allows the use of in-dash navigation and texting programs in cars, such as OnStar. However, the assemblyman who drafted the bill admitted that its language left open the possibility of people using hands-free programs on their cellphones. This will encourage people to dictate their text messages on their cell phones using Siri or similar programs on other devices. By encouraging people to keep their hands off of their phones, lawmakers hope that more people will be able to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.
The new law, however, has met with some resistance. The freshman State Assemblyman Jim Frazier claims that, even when using hands-free texting, a driver’s eyes are off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. If a driver is traveling at 55 mph, the driver’s eyes would be off of the road for “almost a football field.” Unfortunately for Assemblyman Frazier, using hands-free devices to text while driving has become a way of life for California drivers, even though only three months have passed since the bill was enacted. California drivers face long commutes, and they sometimes need to be able to communicate efficiently during those commutes. Assemblyman Frazier claims that hands-free talking on the phone is still available, and is safer than hands-free texting, although it is unclear why that would be.
Only one thing is for sure: the debate on how drivers are able to use their cellphones will continue as long as phones continue to cause car accidents.
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