California legislator proposes new rules for vehicular cell phone use

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.

One Comment

  1. About time! It’s more dangerous than drunk driving…wtf at an under 18 exemption.

    Here’s a personal story I never told you Richard, about my first car crash and when I learned cars were selfish jackasses (often, not always).

    Right after I turned 18 I was hanging out with some friends in Marin. It was about 12:30am and we were standing on a street corner talking, saying goodnight to one of our company. When suddenly my friend Aleksandra screamed as I heard an engine rev and turned around to see a pick up truck driving down the side walk at us, at high speed. I jumped out of the way, one guy stood still and was missed, another pulled Aleksandra out of the way, my friend Devin got hit. Devin flew about 25 feet and was unconscious with a concussion, I had roadrash and whiplash in my neck. Devin came to soon after as the ambulance and cops arrived, we both went to the hospital. I went home that night, it took Devin over a week but he still walks to this day. The driver reported no injuries to his insurance despite this, my mom found it out when she reported it to ours. The kid was barely older than me, driving his stepdad’s truck, which was totaled.

    Why did all this happen? Because he was on his cellphone and dropped it. He bent over, presumably to the right, and turned the wheel as he did, which is how he ended up driving down the sidewalk in a Ford F150 truck. The revving the engine happened when he hit some trash cans down the road and meant to brake.

    I still suspect he was drunk, but as far as I know no one tested him. I prefer to believe he was sober and a moron, but that may just reflect my low-faith in my fellow man.

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