California hands-free mobile phone bill heads to Gov. Schwarzenegger

Posted by Humphrey Cheung

Sacramento (CA) - The California Assembly and Senate have passed a bill that would bar most mobile phone calls made while driving. Senate Bill 1613 would make calling on a non-hands-free phone an infraction that is punishable by fines. The bill now heads to Governor Schwarzenegger for signing.

If the bill is signed into law, starting July 1, 2008 offending drivers could be fined $20 for the first violation and $50 for each violation afterwards. The law explicitly allows drivers to call for fire or police help.

Hands-free phones are exempted from the law. In addition, push-to-talk phones like those from Nextel would be exempt until July 1, 2011. The original bill would have ordered the California Highway Patrol to do a study on whether push-to-talk phones were really safer than ordinary mobile phones, but that phrase has been eliminated from the current bill.

Like many such laws, there are exemptions for civil servants and others. Police officers, fire fighters and other civil servants would be exempt, if they are performing in the scope of their official duties. Commercial truck drivers and drivers of farm vehicles would also be exempt.

A few months ago, TG Daily reported on a recently completed study by the University of Utah. The study claims that drivers using mobile phones drove worse than drunk drivers. Mobile phone drivers had slower braking times and crashed three times during the study. The drunk drivers had no crashes.

SB 1613 was authored by CA Senator Joe Simitian and now heads to Governor Schwarzenegger, who has voiced support for the bill.