The California State Senate passed a bill that increases the fines for drivers and motorists using handheld cell phones or texting while driving. Senate Bill 28, passed on Aug. 15, was proposed by Sen. Joe Simitian (D- Palo Alto) and would add a point against a person’s driver’s license for subsequent offenses.
The bill also includes fining bicyclists using handheld cell phones, as well as texting while biking. At press time, the bill is still awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.
The newly amended bill would increase the fine for a first offense for drivers from $20 to $50, while subsequent offenses would increase the fine from $50 to $100. For bicyclists, the first offense and subsequent offenses would be $20 and $50, respectively. Bicyclists would not receive any points against their driver’s licenses.
According to Press Liaison and Legislative Aide to Sen. Simitian, Melissa Figueroa, the governor has 12 days to sign or veto the bill.
“Bicycle coalitions, the Highway Patrol and local law enforcement have all spoken for the bill in committees,” Figueroa said in an e-mail.
The California Bicycle Coalition (CBC) said it is behind the bill 100 percent.
“We support SB 28 because we also supported the earlier legislation that enacted the ban on handheld cell phone use and on texting,” said Communications Director of CBC Jim Brown. “It’s clear the penalties in the existing law have not provided enough deterrence.”
According to Brown, the current penalties for using a cell phone while driving are ridiculously low. The base fine for handheld cell phone usage while driving is $20. By contrast, the base fine for littering is $100.
CBC also backs the bill because of additions that involve bicyclists in the ban against handheld cell phone use and texting.
“Distracted drivers are a serious threat to everyone on the road, especially to bicyclists, because they’re more vulnerable than drivers,” Brown said. “For those reasons, we’re glad to support the bill.”
The current SB 28 bans all cell phone usage for drivers. Previous laws Sen. Simitian has authored, such as SB 1613 and SB 33, prohibit drivers from talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device and prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from using any type of communication device while driving, respectively.
UC Davis is notorious for its biking community. If the bill is signed into law, UC Davis students will not be able to text or call while biking.
“We have been preparing for the new school year,” said UC Davis Police Lieutenant Matt Carmichael. “Our biking community increase is huge, so we always have a major education component the first few weeks of school.”
According to Carmichael, there is a certain logic applied to any new violation.
“It’s always our intent to educate first,” Carmichael said. “We would be forthright with the education, getting it out to our students, faculty and staff. Then an enforcement would follow.”
SB 28 was also amended to be more uniform with existing bicycle codes.
“This is really, according to [Simitian], an effort to clean up the current law and make it consistent with other aspects of the law that apply to bicyclists,” Brown said. “For instance, driving under the influence is also applied to bicyclists.”
This year, UC Davis will be implementing a new program that allows students to choose their options for biking citations.
“We will have our own online traffic school for bicyclists,” Carmichael said. “There will be a set fee for a bicycle citation. You’ll have the option to attend the traffic school; you pay the fee, which is substantially less than a citation, to go to the school and once you successfully complete it, the citation will be dismissed.”
In general, Carmichael said the main goal of the new program is to keep the biking community safe. He said he believes a massive fine given by a citation does not seem consistent with what the university is trying to accomplish.
“The thing to remember is, the rules of the road that apply to motorists also apply to bicyclists,” Brown said.
CLAIRE TAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.