SACRAMENTO - The cost of a ticket for texting or using a hand-held phone in California would be among the toughest in the nation if a bill introduced in the state senate becomes law.
The bill introduced by state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) calls for raising the base fine for texting from $20 to $100 and for holding a phone from $20 to $50. But fees attached to the cost of the base fine can run more than four times the amount and turn a $100 fine into a $445 ticket for a first-time offender. The previous fine was approximately $145. In addition, the ticket would also be a moving violation.
For those who have multiple moving offenses and haven't gone to traffic school to clear their record, the amount could approach $1,000. Simitian has led the charge for tougher laws on these forms of distracted driving for nearly a decade.
The rules would also apply to bicyclists, who were not covered by the hands-free law that went into effect July 1, 2008.
Nineteen states now ban text messaging by drivers, while California is one of six with a hands-free law. Since the hands-free law went into effect nearly 20 months ago, the California Highway Patrol has written nearly 200,000 tickets.
The impact of the hands-free law is debatable, however. Studies have shown that the act of talking, not of holding the phone, causes the greatest danger.
But Simitian is convinced the laws are helping, citing data that shows a 20-percent decline in fatalities and collisions in California in the first six months after the handheld ban took effect, compared to the same six-month period over the previous several years.