Most Orange County drivers know that although there are laws expressly prohibiting texting and talking while driving, motorists freely ignore them.

State Senator Joe Simitian speaking at the Tea...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

State Senator Joe Simitian, who wrote the first laws, says that he knows that his laws are being ignored, and he wants to change this by drafting a new law that would increase the fines for driving cell phone users.

“Research has shown that our distracted driving laws are changing behavior and saving lives,” Simitian, a Democrat from the Bay Area city of Palo Alto, said in a statement. “Yet we know there are still far too many drivers texting and talking on hand-held cell phones. This bill would toughen penalties, add the deterrent of a point on a driving record, and help fund a program to spread the word that no text or phone call is worth the cost of a life.”

Simitian’s newest bill, SB 1310, passed the Senate with a vote of 24 to 9. This bill would increase the fines from $20 to $30 for first-time offenders, and although, that may not seem extravagant, this puts the total from about $160 to $200 with court fees. Second offenders would be required to pay about $370, a rise from about $280. They would also receive a point on their official driving records.

It’s easy to see these motorists who flout the law; people rarely even try to hide it.

Irma Bough, a traveler who was on her way to Monterey from San Diego, said that she favors the fine increases if it helps to stop cellphone use while driving.

“It’s a safety issue. People are dying because of texting,” Bough said. About the fines, she added, increase them “if that’s what it’s going to take to make it stop.”

Vincent Nathan, a resident of Lake Forest, says he also supports the law.

“The more the merrier, if it’s a deterrent,” Nathan said.

He regularly rides a motorcycle and says that not only does he see drivers talking on their mobile phones, but he also worries about his safety more frequently because of distracted drivers.

“You can see them texting and talking right in front of you,” Nathan said. And, he added, law-enforcement officers aren’t always strict on the issue. Nathan said he’s seen a lot of officers let drivers slide: “I know you can’t stop them all, but. …”

Bicyclists would also be held to the standard of the law, in accordance with Simitian’s bill. Violators would be fined $20 for the first offense and $50 for the second time.

The bill must be ratified by the Assembly, before it will be passed on to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. The governor vetoed a similar bill last year, but that one also had higher penalty fees.

“I’ve been in discussions with the Governor’s Office and hope to find common ground with the governor this year,” Simitian said.

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