(TNS) -- State law prohibits drivers from texting and making or taking cellphone calls unless it’s hands-free. But that doesn’t address updating social media accounts, taking photos or selfies, programming GPS, searching the Internet or music playlists, and other hands-on uses.
That will change effective Jan. 1 when a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Monday goes into effect, updating regulations around distracted driving that will fill in the gray area.
AB 1785, authored by Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), explicitly prohibits drivers from using cellphones behind the wheel for any distracting activities unless they do so through dictation or other hands-free modes.
The bill is a significant update to SB 1613, signed into law in 2006, which prohibited drivers from making calls unless they are hands-free; and subsequently SB 28, signed into law in 2008, prohibiting texting or reading messages while driving.
“It is time that we update our archaic laws on the issue and do our part to make sure drivers are focused on the road,” Quirk said Tuesday in an email. “The accidents, injuries and deaths associated with this form of distracted driving are completely preventable.”
Last year, there were 12 fatal collisions in California involving hand-held cellphone use causing inattentiveness; more than 500 injury collisions; and nearly 700 property damage collisions, according to the California Highway Patrol. In 2015, the agency issued 78,000 citations for using a cellphone while driving and more than 13,000 citations for writing, sending or reading text messages.
“By getting the phone or mobile device out of a driver’s hand, this bill will reduce a significant portion of distracted driving, improve driver and pedestrian safety and give law enforcement a bright line for enforcing the law,” Quirk said in an email.
Officer Florentino Olivera of California Highway Patrol’s Santa Ana office said he thinks AB 1785 is “going to help us a lot.”
“We do see a lot of people,” he said. “You don’t have to be moving, they can be stopped at a light and I can come up on their left or right side and I can see them on the phone either taking pictures or texting.”
Olivera said the majority of drivers pulled over aren’t texting, but looking at social media, even in heavy traffic.
“When I’m at a traffic collision, we’re redirecting traffic, we’re blocking lanes, people are driving by us and they’re recording, they’re taking pictures. That’s distracting,” Olivera said. “It’ll give us an opportunity to stop them.”
AB 1785 won’t change the base fines for cellphone-related violations, which are $20 for the first offense and $50 for the second and subsequent convictions, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Penalty assessments can bring the overall cost to more than three times the base fine.
©2016 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.