Drivers in California will no longer be legally allowed to send text messages while they drive starting in January 2009. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed SB 28 into law, a belated addition to the recent legislation regarding cell phones and motorists.
The decision by state lawmakers to expand the law to penalize those who text and drive at the same time was a good decision. While this may be unpopular with many, college students especially, studies have shown that text messaging while driving is dangerous, even more so than drinking and driving.
One wonders, however, if a fine of $20 for first offense and $50 for further infractions are sufficient deterrents for drivers. For a law enforcement officer, catching someone sending a text message while driving must be harder than catching someone talking on their cell phone without a hands free device; one requires the phone to be held to one’s head while the other can be done while glancing down.
If the law seems to be ineffective during the first few months of 2009, lawmakers should consider raising the fine to create more of a deterrent. An August 2008 report from the NPD Group, a marketing research firm, indicated that the average price of a cell phone is $84.
With a beginning investment of approximately $84, plus a coverage plan from a service provider, most cell phone users are likely putting forth over $100 initially plus monthly charges. Some people are likely to weigh their chances of being caught (presumably low) with how much they will be fined (not very much) and come away not very worried.
It’s true that additional offenses will cost offenders $50 under the new law, but this would be more effective if it continued to increase beyond that.
While the heart of SB 28 is in the right place, it would be more effective if lawmakers had given it some teeth.