Texting and chatting on the phone while driving will be a thing of the past for teen drivers starting next July thanks to a new bill signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday.
The governor signed state Sen. Joe Simitian’s proposal to ban the use of cell phones by teen drivers under 18 years old Thursday while visiting Sequoia High School in Redwood City. Beginning next July, all drivers have a new set of rules. Those over 18 need to use hands-free and those under 18 are hands-off, Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said.
"I introduced this bill to save lives,” he said.
Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen death accounting for 44 percent of all teen deaths nationwide, Simitian said. Sixteen-year-old drivers have a crash rate three times higher than 17-year-olds and five times greater than 18-year-olds and nearly 10 times greater than drivers 30 to 59 years old, according to a 2001 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report.
"The simple fact is that teenage drivers are more easily distracted. They are young, inexperienced and have a slower reaction time. We want to eliminate distractions so they can focus on paying attention to the road and being good drivers,” said Schwarzenneger.
The governor, who has two teenage daughters, added that he has strict rules for his own children about cell phone use while driving. If he catches either driving while talking both the car and cell phone are taken away.
Simitian echoed those sentiments noting that getting a driver’s license and cell phone were almost a rite of passage for teens these day. The combination of the two, however, can be deadly, he said.
Simitian began to notice the increased safety hazard for teen drivers when researching a bill restricting cell phone use for all drivers last year.
Cell phone use while driving will undergo some changes on July 1, 2008. Any driver wanting to use a cell phone must use a hand’s free appliance. Pending the governor’s approval, any driver under 18 years old will have a stricter set of rules to follow — no cell phone use allowed at all. Teens will also be barred from using walkie talkies, pagers, two-way messaging devices, laptops or any other mobile device while driving.
Teens will face a $20 penalty for a first offense and $50 for each offense after.
Many of the 11 teens watching the bill signing were in favor of the new rule.
Seventeen-year-old Cindy Duran lost a friend two years ago in a car crash. Duran turns her cell phone off when she gets behind the wheel.
Although the law won’t ever effect Khaled Tawil, a 17-year-old without a license, he was in favor of the change.
Student Body President Ally Colin, who was given the first signed copy of the bill, described the new law as vital for the safety of the community.
"Safer drivers create a safer community,” she said.
Cell phones were associated with 359 accidents — two of which were fatal — between 2005 to 2006 with drivers 15 to 18 years old, according to the California Highway Patrol. Six accidents were linked to cell phones during the same time period in San Mateo County.
California and at least 11 other states are considering bills banning teens from using electronic equipment while driving, according to the American Automobile Association. At least 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed bans.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.