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Simitian: ‘Hands-free’ law is saving lives

State Sen. Joe Simitian is declaring victory now that a new study shows a steep dropoff in distracted-driving deaths since his hands-free phone law took effect for California drivers.

PUT THE PHONE DOWN, DIPSTICKThe analysis, conducted by UC-Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center and released by the state Office of Traffic Safety, examined state crash records two years before and two years after Simitian’s hands-free legislation took effect, and found that overall traffic deaths declined by 22 percent, while hand-held cell phone driver deaths went down 47 percent.

California High Patrol data from the first year of the hands-free law’s implementation had shown a 20 percent reduction in fatalities and collisions in California compared to the annual average over the previous three to five years, Simitian noted – the largest year-to-year drop in collisions in California’s history.

“That’s 700 fewer fatalities and 75,000 to 100,000 fewer collisions each year,” Simitan, D-Palo Alto, said in a news release today. “It’s clear that most California drivers ‘get it.’ They understand just how dangerous distracted driving is, and most are doing their part to make the highway safer.”

“But we also know that there are still too many drivers texting and talking on hand-held cell phones. For drivers who still haven’t gotten the message, studies like this help underscore the fact that no phone call or text is worth the cost of a life.”

Simitian’s SB 1613 – signed into law in 2006 and taking effect in July 2008 – made it illegal for California drivers to talk on a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device. He also authored SB 33 of 2007, which bars drivers under age 18 from texting, talking on a cell phone or using any “mobile service” technology while driving, even with a hands-free device; and SB 28 of 2008, which makes it illegal for California drivers to send, read, or write text messages while driving.

Now Simitian is carrying SB 1310, which would increase fines applied under his earlier bills. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, but Simitian “hopes to find common ground with the governor this year” – and certainly hopes this new study will help.

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.