A Palo Alto state senator again is trying to raise the fine on motorists who illegally use cellphones and, for the first time, to fine bicyclists who text or talk on a hand-held phone.

The state Senate on Monday approved 24-9 legislation by Democratic Sen. Joe Simitian calling for the new fines and sent it to the Assembly. The Legislature last year passed a similar bill by Simitian, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it.

Last year’s bill would have raised the current $20 base fine on drivers to $50 for the first offense and $100 for subsequent violations. This year, Simitian is seeking to increase the base fine to $30 for a first offense and $60 for subsequent offense. That subsequent violation also would cost drivers a point on their driving record.

The actual fine would be much higher because various state and county fees get added on in court. For example, a first offense in Sonoma County now costs a total of $160 and subsequent violations $280. Under Simitian’s measure, Senate Bill 1310, the total fines would be about $200 for a first offense and about $370 for subsequent violations.

The extra $10 base fines would be used to create and fund a distracted driving program at the state Office of Traffic Safety.

The bill also would extend the state’s cellphone driving law to bicyclists, with a total fine — no added state or county fees — of $20 for the first time and $50 for subsequent times, but no driving record points. Under the bill, it appears the county courts would keep all or most of the cyclist fines.

“Research has shown that our distracted driving laws are changing behavior and saving lives,” Simitian said in a statement. “Yet we know there are still far too many drivers texting and talking on hand-held cellphones. This bill would toughen penalties, add the deterrent of a point on a driving record and help fund a program to spread the word that no text or phone call is worth the cost of a life.”

In vetoing last year’s bill, Brown said the existing fines were enough to deter illegal cellphone use. Simitian said he’s discussed his new bill with Brown’s office and hopes “to find common ground with the governor this year.”

The Associated Press reported that state Sen. Doug La Malfa, R-Willows, objected to the bill before the Senate vote Monday, saying police should focus on looking for drivers distracted or driving erratically rather than looking for hand-held cellphones.

“People out there that live with this think it’s a pretty trivial thing,” La Malfa said. “The fines are huge, the burden is high. You talk to just regular people out there, most of them hate this ban.”


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  1. Mark Anittax

    Fees, my foot. Those are thinly disguised taxes. Enough, already!

    May 14th, 2012 8:52 pm

  2. Phil B.

    Don’t forget to ban water bottle drinking on bikes also it takes their eyes off the road. camelbak stock soars

    May 14th, 2012 8:53 pm

  3. still not enough

    That’s still too low of a fine. I think they should treat it like a d.u.i Lawmakers really need to send a message to these people that are talking and texting while driving.

    May 14th, 2012 9:39 pm

  4. wango fango

    Cell phones ARE dangerous in cars but our family has found a safer alternative for between-car communication. Ma takes one car, Pa the other car and we talk forth and back between vehicles by using string stretched between two tin cans. It’s inexpensive, non-polluting and green since it gives highway bird life a place to perch. They like to listen in on our conversations, too. Back in Kentucky, Grandma and Grandpa have their own hands-free system to communicate. Since their two old clunkers spew so much exhaust, they’ve learned the old Native American smoke signal language and use it as they cruise the roadways. Clever, eh?

    May 14th, 2012 10:28 pm

  5. robert

    Some people call these taxes. If they indeed are taxes, they are the kind of taxes I like. This is easily, very easily, avoidable. I’m not going to tell you how to avoid the penalty. You’ll have to figure that out yourself.

    May 14th, 2012 10:46 pm

  6. Itsme


    May 14th, 2012 11:25 pm

  7. Todd

    All I hear is. Give me MORE

    May 15th, 2012 7:19 am

  8. Jim

    Just a never ending theft of people’s freedom and money. I cannot believe this state. Bicycles?? Give me a break.

    Since the REAL facts, yes F-A-C-T-S, I know the government doesn’t pay any attention to facts, but the facts are that holding a phone or using a “hands free” device makes NO difference, rather it is the CONVERSATION that is distracting. What about eating? Talking to your passenger? Putting on makeup? Shaving? Changing the radio station? Setting the GPS? Putting in a CD????

    The thieves in Sacramento will never stop expanding their power. They WASTE billions of dollars to buy votes and get re-elected and then steal from us to pay for it.

    I’m so sick of the ENDLESS theft. Why do the IDIOT voters put up with this?? Oh, because they’re idiots! Just re-elect the same criminals. Why not avoid this whole process and have your paycheck sent straight to the government? Then they can give you what they think is enough. They already take the highest amount in the nation via sales, vehicle, income and other taxes. Add in the fines, the business taxes, the permits, the environmental hurdles…there will be no businesses or smart people left in this state in 20 years. I’ll be gone in 10.

    May 15th, 2012 7:27 am

  9. bill wells

    why do they let people use cb and 2 way radios that you have to hold to use

    May 15th, 2012 7:50 am

  10. rasputin

    What is wrong with the cities math. the bill is raising the fine from $20 to $30, that looks like a $10 increse. Now the local city gets its greedy littly hand in and the fine goes from $160 to $200 for 1st , $280 and now to $370 for 2nd.

    The first is a $40 increse and almost $100 increse on 2nd’s.
    Let me guess the city wants it fire and police raises oh and the new higher pensions as well.

    May 15th, 2012 8:03 am

  11. will brown

    The part I find myself annoyed with is how many cops I see talking on cell phones and pressing laptop buttons while driving. The are not super-human.
    Maybe the state could provide a Distracted Driving Prevention or Awareness Enhancement class which would allow graduates increased cell phone use options.

    May 15th, 2012 8:29 am

  12. James Madison

    If a car driver is distracted, they could kill someone, if a bicycle rider is distracted, they could hurt themselves – big difference.

    I still see loads of people texting or whatever on their smartphones while driving and weaving around the road – the penalties are not enough to stop the behavior, but $10 more won’t make a big impact.

    May 15th, 2012 8:32 am

  13. Frank Murphy

    More nanny state laws passed to extract more money from the taxpayers…this crap is getting old.

    May 15th, 2012 9:20 am

  14. Rick

    Personally I’m all for the fine on cars. Texting or talking while driving definitely increases risk. But the part about fining cyclists? Is there any data out there about cellphone wielding cyclists causing any significant amount of damage to anyone but themselves?

    May 15th, 2012 9:42 am

  15. offramp

    rasputin, the fees added to the base fine were not put on by the city. They were added by the legislature to fund things like court costs, emergency medical services to care for those injured in crashes, etc. A small bit goes to the city, but nothing like what goes to the county and state. Research before commenting.

    May 15th, 2012 9:45 am

  16. offramp

    Jim, you want facts? Okay, you’re right, it is the conversation that is the most dangerous. Why not a total ban, including talking? Because the legislators knew the Reps would not go for it (Hands Off My Freedoms!!!!), so they went for partial, and it even took six years to get that.

    What about those other things – grooming, GPS, radio, eating, etc.? Well, first, you can still be cited for those, at the discretion of the officer. But as for danger, they are generally less dangerous because they are shorter in time and don’t cause cognitive disconnect like cell phone talking does. Added together, those other things have traditionally amounted to about 2% of fatal crashes. Cell phone use alone doubled that and more.

    If your thing really is the fines, which you consider taxes, that’s an easy answer. First, understand that the police normally get little and often nothing from the tickets they write. Cities get a little, counties get some, the courts get a pretty good share for building, operating and security, emergency medical services get some for cleaning up after crashes, the State gets some, there is some for getting DNA samples from those in jail, and the list goes on.

    Secondly, if you really want to protest the cost of a ticket, there is a foolproof way to do it, to thwart their evil, money grubbing intentions. Just don’t break the laws! No violation, no ticket, no revenue generated to the government! What could be simpler? Done deal. Starve them with compliance.

    May 15th, 2012 10:27 am

  17. Jody Hampton

    You’re just as dead whether hit by a texter, talker, or a drunk so why not make the fine for distracted driving the same as drunk driving.
    Also your insurance rates should just soar.

    May 15th, 2012 10:46 am

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