Brown vetoes bill to beef up hands-free law

Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a Bay Area lawmaker’s bill to beef up the law against handling cell phones while driving.

SB 28 by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, would’ve increased fines for motorists who use cell phones without a hands-free device or who text while driving; subsequent violations would’ve been made punishable by addition of a “point” on motorists’ driving records.

Simitian issued a news release calling Brown’s veto “a lost opportunity to save more lives,” and said he would “review the Governor’s veto message to see if there is any room for compromise in the coming year.”

“I’m disappointed,” he said, “but the Governor gets the last word. I understand and accept that. My job now is to figure out where do we go from here.”

The Assembly had approved SB 28 on a 51-21 vote; the state Senate had approved it 23-13. The governor’s office has not yet made a veto message available.

Simitian said California Highway Patrol data from the first year of the hands-free law’s implementation shows a 20 percent reduction in fatalities and collisions in California compared to the annual average over the previous three to five years. That translates into at least 700 fewer fatalities and 75,000 to 100,000 fewer collisions each year. The CHP data also show an immediate drop of 40-50 percent in the number of distracted driving accidents attributed to cell phones after the law went into effect.

And research by the AAA Automobile Club of Southern California and the State’s Office of Traffic Safety suggests a 60 to 70 percent compliance rate with California’s hands-free driving law, Simitian said, implying a more significant deterrent could improve compliance and enhance public safety.

Simitian authored SB 1613 of 2006, which made it illegal for California drivers to talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving, effective July 2008; SB 33 of 2007, which prohibited drivers under the age of 18 from texting, talking on a cell phone or using any “mobile service” technology while driving, even with a hands-free device , also effective July 2008; and SB 28 of 2008, which made it illegal for all drivers in California to send, read, or write text messages while driving, effective January 2009.

UPDATE @ 9:42 A.M.: Even as I posted this, the governor’s veto message arrived. “I certainly support discouraging cell phone use while driving a car, but not ratcheting up the penalties as described by this bill,” the governor wrote. “For people of ordinary means, current fines and penalty assessments should be sufficient deterrent.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Mario

    “For people of ordinary means, current fines and penalty assessments should be sufficient deterrent.”

    Mr. Brown, its not.