Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, pushed through the relatively low profile AB 1536. He cited the burden of current distracted driving limits on business people who spend so much time in vehicles:
“I can relate to the frustration of many Californians who were unable to communicate with friends, family and business partners while driving because it is currently against the law to operate text based functions while driving,” said Miller, pictured. He’d dubbed the bill the “freedom to communicate” act.
The revised texting law goes into effect Jan. 1.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed State Sen. Joe Simitian’s plan to hike distracted driving fines, saying fines would be too high for “people of ordinary means.” That plan would have more than doubled penalties for texting and using handheld cell phones.
U.S. automakers, tech companies such as smartphone makers, and the entrepreneurs behind various hands-free devices have been seeking changes in laws and legislation that permit voice-controlled hands-free operation of electronic systems.
The automakers have invested heavily in bringing wireless communications and entertainment systems in their vehicles.
HandsFreeInfo.com editor Glenn Abel told the Silicon Valley Mercury News that “the larger trend is that these laws get passed pretty quickly or by people who don’t understand the technology. And they’re finding that once they get these laws into the field, there are problems, so they come back and try to fine-tune everything.”
Some state distracted driving laws were written to allow for hands-free operation of all portable electronic devices, but California’s texting law was not. (The state has separate cell phone and texting laws for motorists.) The Mercury News article cited confusion Friday over which devices were affected by the new law, even in Assemblyman Miller’s office.
The broadly worded AB 1536 cleared the Legislature without significant opposition. The Senate vote was unanimous.
Miller’s web site says the assemblyman believes “public safety is the first priority of government.” The Inland Empire legislator said the new law brings California “up to date with emerging technology.” He has seats on the Insurance, Ethics and Transportation committees.
Meanwhile, Sen. Simitian has lowered the fine increases called for in his latest distracted driving bill to $10. His Senate Bill 1310 was approved May 14 and sent to the Assembly, where it won backing from the Transportation Committee on June 12 but failed to advance since then.
The new fines would be $30 (first offense) then $60. With fees and surcharges, that means distracted driving violators would pay up to $372 out of pocket.