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Cell phone use is one of the leading causes of distracted-driver accidents in California. In a recent study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers using cell phones are 4 times as likely to get into a serious auto accident. Serious accident is defined as one that would require the accident victim to be sent to the hospital.

With road safety in mind, last Thursday Governor Schwarzenegger joined 13 other states and signed a new law banning all teenagers from using cell phones, pagers, ipods and text messaging devices while driving an automobile
The author of senate bill 33, Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto is also the creator of another familiar bill, SB 1613, which bans all adult drivers from using cell phones, all except “hands free” technology. Although both laws don’t go into effect until July 1, 2008, it is a good idea to get into the habit of not using a phone while driving.

“Driving and having a cell phone are rites of passage for our children, but the two taken together really have proven to be a deadly combination,” Simitian said. Also, a good way to remember the difference between the two laws, he added, is “over 18, hands-free, under 18, hands off”.

According to the American Automobile Association and a recent Seventeen magazine joint survey, 51% of teens talk on the phones while driving and 46% said they had sent text messages while driving. It’s no wonder that between 2005 and 2006, there were over 359 accidents linked with cell phone use among teen drivers 15-18 years old. In fact, vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths nationwide.

Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, states that sixteen-year-old drivers have a crash rate three times higher than 17 year olds, and five times higher than 18 year olds. And compared with drivers 30-59 years old, teens had a 10 times greater chance of being in a vehicle crash. Teenage drivers are young, inexperienced and easily distracted. Governor Schwarzenegger hopes that with the signing of this bill, it will help their focus be more on the road and traffic safety.

Teens all across California have had mixed feelings about this bill. While some look at this as another impingement of their freedom, many of the teens interviewed agreed that driving with a cell phone does cause distractions and realize that safety must come first. Many parents, including the senator and governor, applaud the new legislation as a new step in keeping our states’ teens safe while driving.

Many cell phone makers and network providers have been against tougher laws’ restricting cell phone use, but one in particular, Palm, Inc has come out in full support of SB 1613. Joe Fabris, director of wireless solutions at Palm, say that as long as the safer technology is available, there is no reason not to use it. Some other providers argue that distracted drivers are sidetracked with other factors besides cell phone, and while that may be true, drivers need to be as safe as they can possibly be.

Violators of either law will have a $20 fine on their first offense, and then a $50 fine for each further incident. Also, the bill says that a police officer just can’t stop you for talking on a cell phone. This bill is considered a “secondary offense law”, which means that the authorities can’t pull drivers over because they observe electronic device use, but that they can pull you over for violations such as erratic behavior.

So to all of you texters out there, drive safe and Dnt txt n drv-thx.