State considers tougher cell phone crackdown

April 6, 2010 5:51:40 PM PDT
If you watch Oprah with any regularity, you know she is on a crusade to get people to stop texting and talking on the phone while driving. In California, the cell phone law may be about to get a lot tougher.

Refusing to use a hands-free device could get more expensive. A Senate committee agreed to make violators pay more.

"He was talking on his cell phone when he hit me," says Brian Nelson, an accident victim.

For those California drivers who still violate the law and text or use a handheld cell phone while driving, you have to listen to Nelson's story. He walks slowly and with a limp now because of a cell phone-gabbing driver who hit him while riding his bike last summer.

"The gentleman didn't see me and he plowed right into me," says Nelson.

"He was on his cell phone?" asks ABC7's Nannette Miranda.

"Yeah. He didn't see me at all," says Nelson.

"And where did you end up?" says Miranda.

"On the hood of his car, clinging on there for dear life," says Nelson.

"The fines, penalties currently in place are relatively small," said Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.

The author of the original cell phone driving ban, Simitian, convinced a Senate committee to approve a crackdown on Californians who continue to break the law by hitting them in their wallets harder.

The fine for talking on a handheld or texting while driving is currently $20 for the first offense. Simitian's proposal increases the fine to $50, plus a point on your driving record. Repeat offenses would double from $50 to $100 and a point would also be added to your driving record.

"The notion here is a somewhat more significant fine, we'd have a greater deterrent and save more lives. It's really just that simple," says Simitian.

The California Highway Patrol says traffic collisions and fatalities dropped 20 percent from the previous five-year average before California's hands-free law took effect, but that point on a driving record worries commercial truckers, who could lose their jobs.

"Truck drivers, we can't go to school to get it off our record, although other motorists can," says Basil DeAnda, a truck driver.

Nelson, though, says the stiffer penalties are necessary, given his leg will never be the same again because of that one driver who was distracted by his cell phone.

"He wasn't paying attention to the law, basically, not only took his life into his hands, but took my life into his hands," says Nelson.

Simitian says many local jurisdictions will be adding court costs and other fees to the ticket, so a $20 fine is more like $255 and a $50 ticket is more like $450.


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