California hangs up on cell phone driving bill

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 07, 2011 6:29 PM
California hangs up on cell phone driving bill

By Greg Lucas

SACRAMENTO, Calif (Reuters) - Hold the phone! California's governor on Wednesday vetoed legislation to toughen the state's law against talking on a cell phone while driving.

The bill also would have made it illegal for California bicyclists to talk or text on mobile phones when they are riding.

Since 2008, California has barred motorists from holding a phone to their ear when they are behind the wheel. But the state allows hands-free cell use, such as with an earpiece.

A bill recently approved by the legislature would have more than doubled the first-offense fine to $50, from the current $20, for drivers caught texting or holding a cell phone to their ear. For those caught a second time, what has been a $50 fine would have grown to $100.

But because California cities and counties tack on a variety of fees and penalties to base fines set by the state, a first offense would actually have cost $328 and a second offense, $528, according to an analysis of the bill prepared for the California Senate.

"I certainly support discouraging cell phone use while driving a car but not ratcheting up the penalties as prescribed by this bill," Brown, a Democrat, wrote in a veto message.

"For people of ordinary means, current fines and penalty assessments should be sufficient deterrent," he added.

Thirty-three states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territory of Guam ban text messaging for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Besides California, 29 states and D.C. ban cell phone use altogether, earpiece or not, for drivers under the age of 18.

Meanwhile, California's original hands-free cell phone requirement and texting ban did not specifically include bicycles.

The latest bill would have corrected that and charged cyclists violating the law $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.

But for the time being at least, California cyclists who use a cell phone at the handlebars will get a free ride.

Brown also vetoed another bill that would have required minors to wear a helmet on the state's ski slopes.

"I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state," Brown said in vetoing that bill.

(Additional reporting by Jim Christie: Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman)