Reforming the current law banning texting and talking without a hands-free device while driving is a necessary measure in reducing the number of accidents on the road. The bill will increase fines and extend the law to include the same offense while riding bicycles.
Considering the technological age we live in – one where cell phones, computers and the Internet become extensions of ourselves – stiffer penalties for violations must mirror the possible consequences of allowing drivers’ eyes to wander from the road or their hands to leave the steering wheel.
Under Sen. Joe Simitian’s (D-Palo Alto) legislation, driving and talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device will cost $50 on the first offense and $100 for subsequent violations, while the fine for using text message devices will increase to $100 on the first offense.
The current base fine for texting while driving is set at $20 for the first violation. Subsequent violations are $50, excluding additional local court costs and program fees. At this penalty level, the temptation to text remains strong while the consequence is relatively trivial.
Clarification of the bill’s language to include bikes is a necessary piece of the legislation. The rule should apply to everyone who operates a vehicle, including bikes. Davis residents know first-hand the accidents that can happen as a result of poor attention to the road and other drivers.
If bikes are going to share the road with cars, trucks, and other vehicles while being held to the same laws, it makes sense for the texting and talking ban to apply to them as well. Similarly, bikes in Davis are required to use a bike light during night cycling.
The penalty for getting into an accident while texting and driving, however, remains the same. In situations where texting contributed to the collision, the driver could be charged with other violations, such as reckless driving and unsafe speeds. Furthermore, a violation of the two bans will add a point on driving records, possibly affecting insurance levels.
As technology becomes ubiquitous, laws must be altered to reflect this complexity. If this law helps to avoid accidents and save lives and injuries, the voters should support the bill.