1,000 citations in first week of new cell phone law

The law, which went into effect July 1, bars motorists from holding their cell phones to their ears while driving. Drivers can still talk on the phone using a hands-free device, such as a Bluetooth or headset, that does not cover both ears.

As of late Tuesday, CHP offices throughout the state had reported citing 991 motorists for violating the law, said CHP spokesman Steve Kohler.

He pointed out that total is preliminary and that not all CHP offices had submitted their numbers. The tally also does not include citations issued by local law enforcement agencies.

The legislation was introduced by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. A second law authored by Simitian, which also took effect July 1, prohibits drivers under 18 from talking on a cell phone at all while driving.

Ten drivers under 18 were cited by the CHP under that law.

Kohler said some officers have expressed surprise about how few motorists they have seen holding cell phones.

In the Bay Area, 103 adult motorists were cited by the CHP between July 1 and July 6 for violating the law, said CHP Officer Hugo Mendoza.

Mendoza acknowledged the number is low, saying "I think it's because it's a brand-new law and people are actually complying."

The base fine for violations is $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses -- but when penalties and assessments are added, total cost will average $76 for first-time offenders and $190 for subsequent offenders, according to the CHP.

Violations will show up on the driver's record, but the Department of Motor Vehicles will not assign a violation point.

Drivers may still use cell phones to make calls to emergency services agencies.

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