California recently became the seventh U.S. state to ban text messaging while driving after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 28 last week, a measure that will further prohibit a driver’s ability to use a cell phone while driving.
SB 28, written by Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), will ban the use of a wireless communications device to “write, send or read a text-based communication,” which includes but is not limited to text messages, instant messages and electronic mail.
The bill will enforce a $20 fine for the first offense and a $50 fine for each subsequent offense, and will become effective Jan. 1, 2009.
SB 28 comes just three months after enforcement began for SB 1613, another Simitian-authored bill that bans the use of cell phones while driving without a hands-free device.
“I am gratified by the Governor’s action,” Simitian said in a written statement on SB 28. “Texting while driving is so obviously unsafe that it’s hard to believe anyone would attempt it, yet everyday observation suggests there are an awful lot of folks who do.“
In 2008 alone nine U.S. states have implemented laws relating to cell phone use. Many states have also instituted teen-driver-specific laws relating to cell phone use, including in California, where SB 33 prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a mobile device while operating a motor vehicle.
“It further encourages safe and responsible driving,” Schwarzenegger said in a recent press release. “Banning electronic text messaging while driving will keep drivers‘ hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, making our roadways a safer place for all Californians.“
Though some drivers may feel this law is excessive, most experts agree that fewer distractions on the road make for fewer accidents.
A 2003 study by University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer compared drivers using cell phones to those who were intoxicated due to alcohol and came to the conclusion that “cell-phone drivers exhibited greater impairment than intoxicated drivers.“
California Highway Patrol spokesperson Kurt Heuer said there have been many cell phone related incidents, including several incidents specifically related to text messaging.
One major accident involving text messaging occurred last year when a woman rear-ended a stopped car at 65 mph on Route 44 in Northern California, Heuer said.
“The car she collided with caught fire and the person died that was within it as a result,” he said.
Heuer said he is hopeful that the new law will have a positive impact on driving safety.
“It’s just like the cell phones,” he said. “I am personally noting less people on the phone, but people will have to retrain themselves not to do these things. It will be difficult … but hopefully we’re starting to get the message out.“
First-year student Queeny Le said that she is against the new law, though once in effect, the $20 first time penalty would probably stop her from text messaging while driving.
“If it’s something quick or short, it shouldn’t affect your driving,“ she said. “But if it’s long obviously I’ll just wait until later.“
Yet others, such as state representative Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) have spoken against the bill, claiming the addition to the Vehicle Code is not a necessary one.
UC Davis senior Tom Langston agrees that the inclusion of text messaging as something that may lead to reckless driving is unnecessary.
“It should have already been implied and doesn’t need to be that specific,” he said. “Though it will make me a little more cautious.“
AARON BRUNER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.