California Assembly member Jim Frazier (D-Antioch) yesterday introduced a bill to increase education on cell phone use and stiffen penalties for those who are caught using a cell phone while driving.
AB 1646 would make these changes to California Vehicle Code:
- Add questions about the dangers of using a mobile device while driving to the driver’s license test.
- Raise fines for offenses and assess points for 2nd and subsequent violations.
- Make driving while using a mobile device a primary offense. Currently, officers can only write citations for cell phone use after they’ve pulled a driver over for another offense.
- Remove the hands-free device exception from drivers under the age of 18.
AB 1646 follows on the heels of AB 1555, also introduced by Frazier. Under existing law, prosecuting drivers who cause “great bodily injury” while the motorist uses a cell phone can be difficult to prosecute, with violators often receiving a $20 citation and not much more. AB 1555 changes the California penal code to explicitly make driving with an electronic device prosecutable as the crime of vehicular manslaughter.
According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, cellphone use while driving is now the leading cause of “driver distraction” crashes in California and has been shown to be as dangerous as drunk driving. The California Police Chief Association and the Peace Officers Research Association of California support AB 1555 as efforts to improve highway safety.
Frazier introduced a bill in 2013 to eliminate the hands-free device exception available for drivers under California law. AB 313 died in committee last May.