Law to Prohibit Text Messaging While Driving

Gov. Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 28 into law on Sept. 24 prohibiting text messaging on mobile phones while driving. The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2009.
According to the official California legislative information Web site, Senate Bill 28 amends the Vehicle Code and “specifically bans the use of an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication while driving a motor vehicle.”
The previous legislation restricting cell phone use while driving, Senate Bill 1613, came into effect on July 1 and requires drivers to use hands-free devices to communicate with cell phones while driving in order to reduce driver distractions and increase safety on roads. Senate Bill 1613 had only prohibited text messaging for drivers under the age of 18.
“There hasn’t been significant abuse of the new law,” said UCI Police Department Police Chief Paul Henisey. “Our perspective is that [the amount of drivers] using cell phones [without hands-free devices] has dropped considerably.”
However, Chief Henisey believes it is too soon to tell if the law has prevented injury.
“The number of traffic collisions on campus is small,” Henisey said. “It will probably take another six to eight months to determine [the law’s] effects.”
“I suspect that not including [universal restriction for] texting was an oversight,” said Phyllis Agran, professor emerita of pediatrics and senior researcher for the Center for Trauma and Injury Prevention Research.
Despite leaving a universal text message ban out of the original law, Agran insisted that police officers have the authority to ensure safety on the road, whatever the case.
“An officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely,” Agran said.
Although Professor Agran acknowledged the danger of other distractions, she doubts this law will lead to the banning of other driver distractions.
“Probably this will not occur … but all distractions are covered under reckless driving laws,” Agran said.
According to Senate Bill 28, the restriction on text messaging will not apply if the driver is reading, selecting or entering a phone number to make or receive phone calls. Still, differentiating between these similar actions, which will be more difficult than verifying whether a driver is using a hands-free device during a call, will ultimately be up to the officer involved.
“It’s going to be a judgment call,” Henisey said. “One of the negatives of the law is that it’s not clear-cut, not black and white. We’re leaving much up to the officer’s discretion, and it’s up to the officer to prove that a violation occurred.”
Violation of the law based on Senate Bill 28 will result in infractions of $20 for first-time offenses and $50 for each successive offense.