Sacramento – Legislation by Assemblymember Tom Daly (D – Anaheim) increasing penalties for distracted driving was approved May 23 by the State Assembly. Daly’s bill passed with bipartisan support.
“Driving while texting is often deadly,” Daly said. “Diverting your eyes from the road to text for as few as five seconds, while traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour, is long enough to travel the length of a football field, and it’s like doing so while blindfolded.”
Distracted driving resulted in the deaths of 3,477 people nationally and injuries to an additional 391,000 in 2015 alone. Distracted driving accounts for 10% of fatal crashes, and the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of a fatal crash were between the ages of 15 to 19.
Unfortunately, California’s existing penalties for distracted driving – a base fine of $20 for a first violation and $50 for subsequent violations – have had little if any impact on driver behavior. AB 47 will add a point violation to a person’s driving record if the violation occurs with 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense.
Writing in support of Daly’s bill (AB 47), David Swing, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, noted that “existing law prohibits a person from using a wireless device while operating a motor vehicle. However, under the Vehicle Code distracted driving is exempt from being counted as a point violation for the purpose of suspension or revocation. Under this bill, law enforcement would be able to use the current system of accountability to prevent drivers from negatively impacting others.”
Also writing in support was Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association. “Since 2016 in Santa Ana, there has been 176 traffic collisions involving cell phone distracted driving, half of which were injury collisions,” Serrano wrote. “In addition, during this time there have been 2,885 citations issued in Santa Ana for driving while using a wireless device. AB 47 strengthens are current distracted driving laws to make California’s roads and highways safer.”
“Fines alone have done little to discourage people from texting while driving,” Daly said. “Distracted drivers continue to injure and kill others on roads and highways, but the absence of a negative point for wireless violations sends motorists the wrong message as to the seriousness of their distracted driving behavior. It makes no sense to continue to penalize distracted driving as if it’s no more serious than a parking ticket.”
Kathy Sieck, senior vice president of public affairs for the Auto Club of Southern California, said that her organization “surveyed California drivers earlier this year and found that nearly half of the drivers who responded said they would stop using their smartphone while driving if violating the distracted driving law resulted in driver record points. “That’s why we believe, in addition to education and public awareness campaigns such as our current ‘Don’t Drive intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated’ initiative, AB 47 would be a solid step in the right direction and save lives.”
AB 47 is now in the Senate, pending referral to policy committee.
Assemblymember Tom Daly represents California’s 69th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Anaheim, Garden Grove, Orange & Santa Ana.