SACRAMENTO, CA — California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has given a strong boost to legislative efforts to outlaw hand-held mobile phones throughout California, according to the Los Angeles Times newspaper. During an online interview with a reporter broadcast over the Internet, Schwarzenegger called such driving distractions “terrible” and “inexcusable” and said: “We have to see if the right way to go is through a bill or any other way, but I think we must make sure that people don’t use phones, because it not only endangers them but it endangers everyone else out there.” For the past five years, California lawmakers have unsuccessfully introduced bills banning hand-held cell phones. But in May, SB1613 — sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) — made it through the state Senate, which had been the strongest place of resistance. The bill will be voted on in the Assembly next month; because that chamber approved a similar measure in 2003, its prospects are considered strong, and one committee has already endorsed it, the report said. Only New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia have outlawed holding cell phones while driving. Like the laws in those states, Simitian’s bill would permit the operation of hands-free phones and hand-held ones in the case of police emergencies. If approved by the Assembly and signed by Schwarzenegger, Simitian’s bill would make driving while using a hand-held cell phone an infraction, punishable by a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for subsequent ones. The rule would take effect Jul. 1, 2008, and would be enforced by the CHP as well as local police and sheriff’s departments. Preliminary statistics from 2005 show that 1,098 accidents, including six fatalities, were caused by drivers holding cell phones; 102 crashes, with one fatality, were caused by motorists talking through a headset or intercom.

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