News

Simitian aims to raise fines for distracted drivers

Bill that would increase fines for drivers who text, talk on cell phones without hands-free devices passes state Senate

A proposal by state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) to raise fines for drivers who text while behind the wheel cleared a legislative hurdle Monday when the state Senate voted to approve it.

The bill, which now proceeds to the state Assembly, would increase the fine for drivers who use cell phones without a hands-free device or text while driving from $20 to $50 for a first offense. The fine for each subsequent offense would go up from $50 to $100.

More significantly, the new law would put a point on the record of drivers with more than one cell-phone violation.

Simitian estimated in a statement that when all fees and penalties are taken into account, the total cost of a first offense would be about $309.

The new bill would also apply to bicyclists, though they would face smaller fines than motorists. For bicyclists, the ticket for a first offense would be $20, while subsequent offenses would net $50 tickets.

The state Senate approved the bill 24-12.

In his statement, Simitian cited California Highway Patrol data that showed a drop of more than 40 percent in the number of driving accidents attributed to drivers distracted by cell phones in the first year of the hands-free law. He said he expects the new law to serve as a further deterrent.

"Compliance to date has been good, but there's room for improvement," Simitian said. "I think this will make a good law even better."

Simitian has previously authored three other cell-phone laws, including the 2006 law making it illegal for drivers to talk on the phone without hands-free devices, a 2007 law barring drivers under 18 to talk on the phone while driving (with or without hands-free devices) and a 2008 law banning texting while driving. But according to the Economist, the former Palo Alto mayor doesn't expect the state to adopt a full-on ban on phone conversations while driving any time soon.

"I don't think we'll see an outright ban in my lifetime in California," Simitian told the news magazine.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by E. Seaman
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 26, 2011 at 11:03 am

This looks like a constructive bill. Another way to make our roads safer, while bringing more dollars into the public coffers, would be to cite those who don't use turning signals. It seems to me that's about half the drivers I see.


Like this comment
Posted by Floyd
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 26, 2011 at 11:56 am

Surprising the number of late model cars that don't come equipped with turn signals.


Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 26, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Unless there is a full ban on cell phone conversation while driving, the current laws will be highly ineffective. I'd also like to see heavy fines on drivers who turn without using their turn signals. This phenomenon has become an epidemic in Palo Alto and I have witnessed at least two accidents and numerous near-accidents due to drivers who couldn't be bothered to use their turn signals. Another very big problem is drivers who don't bother to turn their headlights on when visibility is very poor:thick fog, heavy rain, after sunset and before sunrise, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I'd settle for cars stopping on right turns at stop signs and red lights.


Like this comment
Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Silly people - how can they use their turn signals if they're busy texting?!? I'm afraid I give non-signallers another type of signal, after sitting there waiting for them to tell me what they're doing (which most never do). They still don't see it, because they are looking down at their phones, or their eyes are glazed from the inane stuff they are listening to on their headsets. It usually goes like this: "okay, now I'm going to lunch. I think I'll have pizza - no, wait, maybe a burger....." Very important stuff, you see, that makes it impossble to concentrate on driving a huge, heavy vehicle down a street. $50 is still too cheap a fine for these buffoons.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I would love to give cell phone numbers an identifier. Many countries have an extra numeral in cell phone numbers. Then I would like to make it an offence for both parties on the phone to be fined if one was caught driving.

If I ever discover that I am talking on the phone to someone who is driving, I hang up. I was once called by someone who wanted some information from me and when I gave it they said they couldn't write it down as they were driving!!! I hung up straight away.


Like this comment
Posted by thank you
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Thank you Sen. Simitian. I know this bill won't stop all reckless driving, but it should help stop a significant amount of it and save innocent lives. The public has had enough education and warning about the dangers of cell phones while driving. Now is the time to clamp down with strict enforcement.


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Yes! I just rear-ended today (on Lytton) by a guy texting on his phone (he admitted to me after seeing no damage to me). I have a steel bumper and trailer hitch - absolutely no damage to me --- his front bumper got dented nicely. Ha! Doubt he learned his lesson however.


Like this comment
Posted by Political Theatre
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm

This is just another politician looking for publicity. This isn't about distracted driving it's sexy to go after cell phones. What about shaving, putting on your make up, eating, reading the newspaper. This isn't about distorted driving or we would have looked at all the causes.

Maybe he should worry about the state budget mess.


Like this comment
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Why does Joe and his supporters keep pushing these Nanny laws. Don't we already have enough laws in this state. Next he'll propose a law that says you'll have to wear full body armor to ride a motorcycle LOL. Instead of incresing fines why does'nt he take a pay cut.


Like this comment
Posted by thank you
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Nanny laws are intended to protect the idiots. Traffic safety laws protect the innocent victims of reckless drivers.

Many more innocent people have been killed by drivers using cell phone than by people reading newspapers, so a specific laws for this case makes sense.


Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm

We don't have nearly enough of the kind of laws Joe Simitian is proposing, laws that are meant to protect innocent bystanders from reckless and stupid behavior. The "nanny" laws we do have are those which protect corporations from any consequences of their criminal conduct. It's not surprising, since our political system is owned by corporations and we are now a corporatist oligarchy, run for and by corporations.


Like this comment
Posted by Jane Brennan
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Here we go again - another silly specific law, without looking at the big picture. How about our lazy cops just go out and give more tickets for bad driving and speeding. God knows there's plenty of it going on.

While driving, I can hold a coffee in one hand and a bagel in the other, while putting on my make-up and flicking radio channels, and that's OK. But if I put down the coffee, bagel, make-up and radio and pick up a phone, then it's an offense.

Really? Is that what we pay our politicians to dream up and our police to enforce???


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 27, 2011 at 7:55 am

There is very little data that shows that handheld cell phones are the primary cause of traffic accidents. Of the 3100+ fatal accidents in California in 2009, only ten involved handheld cellphones.

The following is a recap of crash data from the CHP where "inattention" was involved:

808881 Not Stated
19281 Not Stated
670 Cell Phone Handheld
115 Cell Phone Hands Free
402 Electronic Equip.
854 Radio/CD
108 Smoking
350 Eating
433 Children
144 Animal
60 Personal Hygiene
141 Reading
5408 Other
15 Cell Phone (Prior to 7/03)

Of over 800,000 parties involved in accidents, only 670 told the police investigators that cell phones were in use at the time of the crash.

So .. just how effective is this new law going to be in reducing fatalities, and crashes on the road? Not very much. It will, on the other hand, generate more revenue for the Sacramento Spending Machine.


Like this comment
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 27, 2011 at 11:55 am

Ah, Joe, dear Joe, you found yet another law to promote.

Let's just cut to the chase. No automobile driving permitted by anyone, for any reason. Except for politicians, of course. Oh - and anyone they favor with a waiver.

Fair enough, Joe?


Like this comment
Posted by Rain
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 27, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Next Joe's going to ban rain. Surely wet roads and the the 'dangerous' conditions that result can't be allowed in his district!

Seriously, though, legislation can't protect against stupid behavior. There's a law, but people still get killed by drunk drivers. If there's an issue, educate people or shame them by making an act socially 'uncool'. It's generally worked for cigarettes in California.


Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Simitian is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT here...his original bill was no deterrent because the fine was only $20. Add at least another zero and make it $200. Raising the fines for this dangerous self-absorbed behavior is the only way people will get their eyes back on the road when they're driving.

Each time I'm driving on local roads, particularly on El Camino and the Alameda, I see people drive right through stop signs while on the phone, or pull out of a parking spot and THEN pick up the phone to start a conversation as they start driving!

If you, your spouse, or one of your kids is on the phone while at the wheel will they even see that crazy lady from Atherton who keeps driving drunk on our local roads???

Things you can't do while driving: talk on the phone, eat, do your hair/nails, read, hit your kids.

Things you can do while driving: drive


Like this comment
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I am in favor of raising the stakes on distracted driving due to cell phones and other such devices including dash-mounted Internet access screens (Ford?)

Interesting how the cell carriers and phones include stern warnings in their user manuals, but have placed their towers and antennas along the freeways. Freeway cellular access was an early design goal, it seems.


Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Unfortunately we need many laws to help protect us from the idiotic and sometime deadly behavior of many Americans, on and off the road. Let's face it, Americans are generally the dumbest people on earth, with no serious competition, and those laws are sadly necessary.


Like this comment
Posted by andreas
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Wayne Martin nailed this conversation. Texting and cell phones are not a factor. Thanks, Wayne.

Simitian is posing for political gain by pandering to people who want to control others.

Wayne wrote such a good post. Why can't the Palo Alto Weekly bother to do a bit of research? Gennady Sheyner's "article" is little more than a press release without any substance whatsoever.


Like this comment
Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm

"Of over 800,000 parties involved in accidents, only 670 **told** the police investigators that cell phones were in use at the time of the crash."

See **

The problem is these statistics are flawed, they require people to admit they were doing something illegal or have a clear view of what was going on in the other car. If the other party was paying that much attention to the other car, why did they get in an accident in the first place? I have prevented a number of accidents with another car because I could tell the other driver was paying too much attention to their phone than traffic. I am sure they never knew that I avoided them when they did something foolish. I think anyone that claims they can drive and text is just the sort of delusional person I dont want next to me on the road.


Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of University South
on Apr 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm

YIMBY is a registered user.

@ thank you, who wrote:

Nanny laws are intended to protect the idiots. Traffic safety laws protect the innocent victims of reckless drivers.

Many more innocent people have been killed by drivers using cell phone than by people reading newspapers, so a specific laws for this case makes sense....................

Wow! all I can say is "Thank you" thank you! That was really well put!


Like this comment
Posted by Shifty
a resident of Monroe Park
on Apr 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I drive a stick shift and can't do much else but drive. Even at that I feel I have to tap into my ESP to navigate around the local roads. I have to read the minds of drivers of oncoming cars who don't use turn signals, and the minds of bicycle riders who may or may not blow through stop signs at 2-way stop intersections. Also pedestrians wearing earbuds who forget to look both ways before crossing. I risk getting rear-ended by distracted drivers behind me when I am forced to stop for any of the aforementioned. One day we will have cars that drive themselves but right now we are not that advanced. What we have right now is a lethal mix of new technology and old fashioned mechanical vehicles. Sadly we are so dazzled by the the new stuff that we are forgetting the responsibilities of the old stuff.


Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 28, 2011 at 7:28 pm

It's impossible to have statistics about cell phone use during an accident since no driver will admit to using one and the police won't search a vehicle involved in an accident for a cell phone. What is certain is that since many accidents are a result of distracted driving, and since the use of a cell phone while driving is highly distracting, many accidents are a result of driving while using a cell phone. A cop can ticket a driver for playing his/her stereo too loudly, since it's considered to be distracting his driving, so cell phone use should be considered as well distracted driving and subject to substantial penalties. Thank you Joe.


Like this comment
Posted by Safety1st
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Certainly agree that we need higher FINES!! for being distracted while driving.
SAFETY FIRST!!
But fines don't cure your fracture, or head injury, so there must be more "punch" to it.


Like this comment
Posted by good grief
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 6:11 am

So impressive of Mr. Simitian to put his elected, tax payer paid salary, into such an important issue...as California hemorrhages jobs and house values, losing as many jobs as Texas gained last year.

I am sure Texas is very busy worrying about distracted driving also, which is driving up their economy.


Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 6:29 am

Texas legislators (Republicans) are trying to repeal their law that allows transgender people to marry. I suppose that law is causing problems with the Texas economy.


Like this comment
Posted by good grief
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 11:02 am

The difference Brian ( or is it Brain?) is that there are always extremists in every group, the problem becomes when the "extreme" seems normal and everyone goes along with it....like Simitian's efforts.

Like already said, how many accidents were by "distracted driving" before cell phones? Gosh..a HIGHER percentage of deaths and accidents then than now, yet we have to go after the "sexy" cell phones. Why? Radios, CDs, yakking with friends in the car, admiring the sexy thing walking down the street, putting on makeup or shaving, reading a paper in stuck traffic...these are all too hard to get at, so let's go after the latest boogy man.

Reminds me A LOT of how we came to think of tomato as a vegetable, though it is, in fact, a fruit. What happened? About 100 years ago vegetables were taxed, and fruits weren't. Guess what happened?????

Good grief.


Like this comment
Posted by Al
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 5:19 pm

thank you, good grief,
Wow! all I can say is "Thank you" thank you! That was really well put!
oh and it makes sense too!


Like this comment
Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 30, 2011 at 5:43 pm

I was born in the stone age and learned to drive well after I was grown. I was a teen when turn signals were first installed into cars. I noticed right away that some people didn't use them. Why not? It is a power play. If everyone slows because no one is sure what the others will do, the guy who intended to turn gets to go first.


Like this comment
Posted by Texan
a resident of another community
on Apr 30, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Texans can cell-yak all the way to their jobs, it's legal there, and the state highways aren't covered in a sheen of blood as a result. The problem is, when Texans and other visitors from free states come to California and get $300 cell tickets, they'll be shocked, and less likely to come back. Back home they'll drive California's reputation further into the basement than it already is, if that's possible.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Salt & Straw Palo Alto to open Nov. 23
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 4,423 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,502 views

Can we ever improve our schools?
By Diana Diamond | 9 comments | 1,404 views