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January 01, 2009

No Texting in California! Just Put Down your Phone and Drive!

Text_message California is the sixth state to make texting behind the wheel a punishable offense. Starting today, a California bill making it an infraction to write, send, or even read a text message goes into effect. The ban on texting is a follow-up to an earlier cellphone restriction that went into effect in July 2008, which requires adult motorists to use only handsfree devices when talking on cell phones.

"Texting while driving is so obviously unsafe that it's hard to imagine that anyone would attempt it," said Sen. Joe Simitian, the Palo Alto Democrat who was the author of the cell phone and text-messaging bills. "But everyday observation as well as statistical information from around the state and nation suggest otherwise."

The new law clarifies the earlier law to include that texting -- not just using a hand-held cell phone while driving-- is a no-no for adult drivers. It also makes texting by a driver under 18 a primary offense that can trigger a traffic stop. (The earlier law required another violation such as speeding before an officer could pull over a minor for using a cell phone.)

Under Simitian's bill, texting while driving could result in a $20 fine for the first offense and a $50 fine for subsequent violations; however other fees can be added on to those penalties. "With a first offense you're pretty much looking at $100," Simitian said. "A second offense, it's about $200 out of pocket."

Five other states -- Washington, Alaska, Louisiana, Minnesota and New Jersey -- also ban texting while driving.

New-text-message According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle,  "There have been several well-publicized accidents in recent years that have been blamed on drivers texting, including a crash that killed five teenage girls in western New York in 2007, one that killed a 13-year-old bicyclist that same year in Massachusetts and another that killed a Stockton man in October north of Sacramento. Cell phone use was a factor in 61 deaths and 3,489 injuries on California roads and highways from 2002 through 2007, according to the California Highway Patrol. But the CHP statistics don't reveal if the motorist involved in the crash was using the phone to talk or text."

A competition last year by Nuance Communications, Inc. showed that voice commands reduce the risk of driver distractions caused by the use of mobile devices in cars. "Today, a serious traffic-safety issue is 'DWT: Driving While Texting'," said Steve Chambers, president, mobile and consumer services division at Nuance. "Over a trillion messages were sent worldwide last year, and the number of text messages is expected to explode to two trillion in 2008. Increasingly, these messages are being sent by drivers who put themselves and others at risk by taking their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel to manually enter text on their cell phone keypad. In fact, the number one killer of American teens on the road today isn't alcohol-related accidents; it's distracted driving with over 45 percent of teens reading or sending messages while driving. Nuance believes the safest option is for drivers to simply refrain from using a phone while driving, but for those who insist on using their devices, our competition showed that the hands-free, eyes-free option provided by speech is the next best alternative."

So just put down that cell phone and concentrate on driving. Pull over and park if you need to send a text message. And remember: The use of wireless phones while driving can still cause distraction, so even if you're wearing a headset, discontinue your call if you can't concentrate on driving.

Jody-devere_president_askpatty Jody DeVere
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