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A Ticket And A Point? Distracted Driving Penalty Closer To Law

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - Drivers in California caught texting or holding a phone may end up with a point on their driving record along with a ticket.

The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously passed Assembly Bill 47 on Tuesday. If it becomes law, it would go into effect July 1, 2021. Lawmakers asked the bill's author to amend the bill to also have that date apply to convictions, as well.

AB 47 was previously amended to state a point would only be added if the offender is caught texting or holding a phone while driving within 36 months of the last violation. The original version would have added a point upon the first conviction.

California law adds points to a driver's record for a number of violations. Those who accumulate four or more points in 12 months, six or more points in 24 months, or eight or more points in 36 months are considered "negligent drivers." The DMV can refuse to issue or renew a license to a negligent or incompetent driver; insurers can also change a driver's rate based on the number of points on his or her record.

Non-commercial drivers can enroll in traffic school to remove a point, meaning the proposal would essentially not add a point until the noncommercial driver's third violation.

A similar bill, SB 1030, didn't advance during the last session. In 2014 Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a nearly identical bill, writing:

""I certainly support taking reasonable steps to curb cell phone use and texting while driving, but I don't believe this bill is necessary at this time to achieve that goal. I'm instructing the Department of Motor Vehicles to add a question about the dangers of using a communication device on the driver license exam. Additionally, the department is beginning a review and analysis of data on distracted driving in California. Let's wait to see the results before enacting a law requiring a violation point."

California law already states drivers can only use a telephone if that phone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking. Drivers who are 18 and younger can't use a device even if it's equipped with hands-free technology.

According to AAA, texting while driving increases the odds of a crash by two to eight times; talking on a phone, even if it's hands-free, increases the odds of a crash by 4 times. Drivers over 18 can use their phone if it's hands-free, meaning voice-activated and operated.

10 percent of all deadly crashes are caused by distracted drivers.

Analysis of the bill revealed:

"According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, a 2016 survey revealed that more than 56% of California drivers said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver who was talking or texting on a cell phone. In addition, the survey indicated that 40% of drivers admitted to making a mistake while talking on a cell phone."

The bill's author, Assemblymember Tom Daly (D- 69th District), "Driving while using a cell phone is a serious safety issue. In 2017, there were 243,760 distracted driving offenses in California related to cell phone use. During that same year, there were 932 collisions – 31 of which were fatal – where distracted driving due to
cell phone use was determined as the factor. Currently, driving while using a cell phone results in a small fine (oftentimes less than a parking ticket), but it has not proven to change behavior."

Currently, the base fine for a distracted driving violation is $20. for the first offense ($162 with fees and assessments) and $50 for subsequent offenses.

California's Wireless Communications Device Law went into effect on January 1, 2009. It bans people from writing, sending or reading text messages while behind the wheel. The handheld wireless telephone law went into effect on July 1, 2008. It prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless phone while operating a motor vehicle. In 2017, drivers could no longer hold cell phones for any reason, including to use map apps or music.

AB 47 previously passed the full Assembly, the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and the Assembly Transportation Committee unanimously.

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