Stiffer fines proposed for cell-phone violators | March 5, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 5, 2010

Stiffer fines proposed for cell-phone violators

State Sen. Joe Simitian's Senate Bill 1475 applies hands-free and no-texting laws to bicyclists, sharply increases penalties for drivers

by Mike Lata

State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) new "distracted-driving" bill would increase penalties for improper cell-phone use and extend the hands-free, no-texting laws to bicyclists.

Senate Bill 1475 would increase penalties from Simitian's first hands-free law from $20 to $50, and for a subsequent offense from $50 to $100. It would increase the fine for texting while driving from $20 to $100. A violation would also add a point to the driver's record.

A portion of the increased revenue would provide for a public-awareness program.

A twist to the new bill is that the existing hands-free and no-texting laws would apply to bicyclists as well as motorists.

Simitian said in a press release that there are definite links between cell-phone use and accidents, injuries and deaths, according to data from the California Highway Patrol.

"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," Simitian said.

"And a nationwide study conducted in 2009 by AAA indicated that 97.7 percent of Americans believed texting or e-mailing while driving was a serious threat to their personal safety.

"The good news is that recently released collision and fatality data from the California Highway Patrol confirms that California's streets and highways are safer following the implementation of California's 'hands-free' cell-phone law," Simitian said.

CHP Capt. Avery Browne said anything that diverts a driver's attention from the roadway, even for two seconds, could result in a tragedy.

Editorial Intern Mike Lata can be e-mailed at


Posted by PA resident, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Let's extend the hands-free to horse riding as well. There's folks up in the Los Altos Hills who I see riding their horses and talking on their cell phone.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm

90% of the time, when I see a car blast through a stop sign without even slowing down, I can clearly see a cell phone in the driver's hand.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2010 at 6:01 pm

These tickets, particularly texting, should add points to your driving record. They should be treated like driving under the influence, which they are.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Exactly why we need a half time legislature...

Posted by Anonomuse, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 5:09 am

All these stupid laws proposed by legislators who can't figure out how to fix the REAL problems. I am beginning to agree with the last poster -- who needs these guys full time!

Posted by Steve, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2010 at 6:51 am

Reckless drivers are a REAL problem! They kill more innocent Americans than terrorists. If we spent as much money fighting reckless driving as spend on the "war on terror", this country would be a much safer place.

Posted by what a joke, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 9:05 am

While I am totally for an increase in fines for texting and emailing, hasn't the charade about hands free phone calls gone on long enough?? There are no stats that back up "hands free" talking decreases accidents. Statements to the contrary are complete lies...The blue tooth lobby did a good job "donating" to the appropriate legislators... It is the conversation that is distracting, not holding a phone in your hand... So I can eat a burger, smoke a smoke, apply make up, change the radio station, yell at the kids, brush my teeth, etc... just not hold a phone to my ear..."God forbid" Either repeal the hands free law for telephone usage or ban cell phone usage while driving all together... The fact how our legislature creates laws to benefit special interest groups makes me sick... How about the legislature focuses on something important and quits trying to turn California into a "nanny" state. I need a government, not another mother...

Posted by Steve, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2010 at 9:21 am

You are right. Hands-free cell phone devices are no safer. They should be banned, too. The streets are dangerous enough.

Nanny laws protect idiots from themselves. Anti-cell-phone laws protect innocent people from reckless drivers. Many innocent people have been killed by these cell phone users.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2010 at 9:40 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

How about a fine for legislating without thinking? That just might balance the budget.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

This is what passes for performing the job of representative? Every quarter passing some new inane law that caters to some different set of people.

With all the video stuff we have these days, why not have enforce laws of operating a motor vehicle in an unsafe way or manner unbefitting public use of the roadways and leave the enforcement to the police? What good does it do to have all these little laws by everyone who wants to score points in their re-elections?

I see people driving while eating. Smoking, listening to the radio, playing the trumpet one time, drinking, it really bugs me to see people driving with their left legs up on the dashboard.

BUT, the issue is that some people have no problem with this, and others cannot drive if they focus their full attention on the process.

Why not actually give people tickets for doing something that is endangering or degrading the public roadways. In Texas driving while drinking used to be legal, and not everyone had accidents. No, I am not advocating drinking while driving, but it is not the whatever while driving that is the problem, it is the people's bad judgement to drive badly.

What about driving while putting on makeup, or reading a map, trying to spank your kids in the back seat, or while angry.

The law has become an unwieldy joke that people just do not want to run afoul of but have little respect for, and the enforcers of the law often seem to do it because they have personality problems.

We have got to do better in society if we expect to survive the exponentially increasing stress and change that is heading our way in the future, as well as that which we already have.

Posted by new in town, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Slightly off-topic....what is the law regarding use of an ipod and headphones while driving? How about bicycling amongst cars?

I see this all the time and cannot believe how invincible some people think they are. I am a careful driver - one of the few driving 25 on Middlefield - and do not talk or text while driving, however, I fear the casual bicyclist rocking out while veering into traffic or making a careless left turn right in front of me. Don't want that on my conscience.

Cars and bikes don't mix! People need to take driving and biking much more seriously than they currently do.

Posted by Richard, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2010 at 3:14 pm

It is presently illegal to drive a car or ride a bike with both ears covered. This law has been on the books for many years, long before the iPod was invented. An earphone in one ear is legal.

Posted by Michael, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Why extend this to bikers?? That sounds ridiculous!

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2010 at 9:33 am

Perhaps the State of California could wage a campaign against BAD DRIVING altogether? Distracted drivers (via cell phones or food) is one thing...but poor driving skills altogether is another thing.

I am astonished by the number of bad drivers in this area who do not use blinkers and those who tailgate (driver to close to the car in front of them). There are also an astonishing number of drivers who (with or without blinkers) turn too suddenly into a lane in front of other drivers.

California roads are too narrow and in too bad of a shape to merit such poor driving skills. I think that a number of "USE YOUR BLINKER -- ITS THE LAW" and "DON'T CUT OFF OTHER DRIVERS -- ITS THE LAW" billboards might do some good.

Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I agree with making the fines more expensive for people who use their cell phones with driving. I have seen many people be completely oblivious of their surroundings when they were driving and talking on the phone at the same time. I read somewhere that using one's cell phone while driving has roughly the same effect as driving while drunk... People don't think the penalties are too stiff for those who drive while under the influence. So why all the complaints about the rules on cell phones?

Please, stop using your cell phones while driving.

Posted by Mike, a resident of University South
on Mar 3, 2010 at 4:42 pm

"Why extend this to bikers?? That sounds ridiculous!"

Try visiting Stanford campus at lunch. It's ridiculous how many careless cyclists talk on the phone while biking on campus.

Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 3, 2010 at 5:02 pm

I know its anectdotal evidence, but I noticed a huge difference in drivers talking on cell phones violating my right of way at a stop vs drivers talking hands free. My personal theory is 2 fold, 1 that drivers holding a phone up to their ear is less willing to twist their head to look at opposing traffic and the hand/phone blocks some of their periphal vision.

Posted by Richard, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2010 at 5:37 pm

RS - there is more to it. The drivers using handheld cell phones clearly don't care about obeying the law and are willing to put their own convenience ahead of safety. That same attitude is associated with sloppy and dangerous behavior at stop signs. In this case it is not clear to me that it is the phone per se that is the problem or whether the phone is an indicator of someone who may already have been a bad driver. In any case, I have no sympathy for this kind of behavior on public roads.

Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 3, 2010 at 11:25 pm

My observations were from when it was legal, before the current law was put in place, so at that time they were not breaking the law. I do notice more and more drivers breaking the current law though, so clearly the current penalty is not a deterrent.

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