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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