New Year, New Laws: Driving Legislation Too Soft to Work

The new year brought about more than new resolutions in California. Starting Jan. 1, the governor put into effect 771 new laws concerning everything from vehicle safety to nutrition. Of those 771, 80 are changes to the vehicle code. While some of this legislation may be effective, most of these laws simply will not punish offenders harshly enough to be successful.
The best known of these laws is the ban on text messaging while the ignition is on. The ban not only applies to texting while driving a vehicle, but also texting while operating a vehicle; for example, texting at a red light is forbidden. The big problem with this piece of legislation is that the punishment is almost like something a teacher would give a student for texting in class — it is too lenient. The first ticket an offender receives results in a $20 fine. No legal ramifications, just $20 dollars. If the offender habitually texts while driving, every ticket after the first fine is $50 per offense. Again, there are no legal ramifications. Parking tickets often punish offenders more than this law. California is basically putting this new ban on texting on the same level as parking illegally, which is simply unacceptable.
Texting while driving is a very dangerous action because it can result in the loss of life. It is more dangerous than speeding on the freeway. It is more dangerous than talking on the phone while driving. And it is definitely more dangerous than parking illegally. However, the punishment for texting seems to indicate otherwise. Californians will never stop texting while driving if the ramifications are not harsher.
Quite possibly the greatest flaw in the ban is that it explicitly states that dialing a phone number is exempt under the law. That just doesn’t make sense. Why would dialing a phone number be any different than texting if both require the operator to use the same keypad and take their eyes off the wheel? On top of that, talking on the phone while driving is illegal in California, so why would dialing a phone number be any different?
Another one of the 80 changes to the California vehicle code has to do with drunk driving. The goal of the legislation passed is simple: to stop drunk driving. However, the effectiveness of the law in achieving that goal is hardly certain. The legislation states that if you have been convicted of a DUI and you are pulled over with a Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) of .01 or higher, your license may be suspended and your car impounded. It’s likely that this piece of legislation won’t even faze drunk drivers.
The primary flaw in this law is that California is essentially giving a warning for driving under the influence before a “serious” ramification is issued. The law should be: Any driver caught under the influence should get his or her license taken away and his or her car impounded. Drunk driving is a serious issue, and with so much at stake, a simple warning is insufficient.
Secondly, the “serious” ramification issued is not even that potent. There are no legal penalties; there is no jail time. Recently, a talk show host by the name of Tom Leykis put on a show where he asked callers to call in if they were driving on the freeway and drinking. He did this for multiple hours. So for hours on end, caller after caller told Leykis they were drinking and driving. On top of that, the callers were also on the phone, an act that is also illegal. Leykis asked the callers if they would stop drinking and driving after Jan. 1. Most, if not all of the callers, said no. Many of these drivers had past DUIs, yet chose to continue to drink while driving. Why? It is because the penalties aren’t severe enough. The idea of going without an alcoholic drink while driving is more a threatening idea to most drunk drivers than the penalties offered by the new drunk driving legislation. The law is just a waste of time and money.

Neil Thakor is a first-year political science major. He can be reached at nthakore@uci.edu.