Stiffer fines could come to those who talk, drive

Stiffer fines could come to those who talk, drive
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- If a proposed bill makes it into law, California drivers who talk or text message on a cell phone while driving will get hit with stiffer fines and penalties.

"I do talk, but I have a hands-free Bluetooth system in my vehicle, so it's all hands-free, so I abide by the law," said Lowell Pollema of Bakersfield as he sat in his pick up truck at a shopping center.

Currently, state law allows only the use of hands-free cell phones while driving. Texting while driving is banned altogether.

The current fine is $20 for first-time offenders and $50 for repeaters. Those fines would double if the bill becomes law. The bill is being proposed by state Sen. Joe Simitian of Palo Alto. Simitian is also the author of the current cell phone statute.

"There are a number of folks out there who haven't gotten with the program," said Simitian.

But the new proposed law goes further. It would add one point against a person's DMV record which typically triggers an increase in automobile insurance.

And for the first time, the law would apply to bicyclists who talk or test message on a cell phone while riding a bicycle. Simitian says he's willing to consider lower fees for errant cyclists as his bill moves through committee.

The bill (SB 1475) was heard in Senate Transportation and Housing where it passed with a vote of 5-1. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations committee next.