SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Drivers caught texting or holding a cell phone in California will soon have a point added to their record under certain circumstances.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 47 Tuesday. It unanimously passed both the Senate and Assembly this summer.

Starting July 1, 2021, a point will be issued for any distracted driving conviction that occurs within 36 of a prior conviction for the same offense. A previous version of the bill would have added a point after the first conviction.

California law already adds points to a driver’s record for a number of violations. Those who accumulate four or more points in 12 months, six or more points in 24 months, or eight or more points in 36 months are considered “negligent drivers.” The DMV can refuse to issue or renew a license to a negligent or incompetent driver; insurers can also change a driver’s rate based on the number of points on his or her record.

Non-commercial drivers can enroll in traffic school to remove a point, meaning the new law would essentially not add a point until the noncommercial driver’s third violation.

A similar bill, SB 1030, didn’t advance during the last session. In 2014 Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a nearly identical bill, writing:

““I certainly support taking reasonable steps to curb cell phone use and texting while driving, but I don’t believe this bill is necessary at this time to achieve that goal. I’m instructing the Department of Motor Vehicles to add a question about the dangers of using a communication device on the driver license exam. Additionally, the department is beginning a review and analysis of data on distracted driving in California. Let’s wait to see the results before enacting a law requiring a violation point.”

California law already states drivers can only use a telephone if that phone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking. Drivers who are 18 and younger can’t use a device even if it’s equipped with hands-free technology. A first-time ticket costs a driver 162 dollars after fees and assessments.

According to AAA, texting while driving increases the odds of a crash by two to eight times; talking on a phone, even if it’s hands-free, increases the odds of a crash by 4 times. Drivers over 18 can use their phone if it’s hands-free, meaning voice-activated and operated.

10 percent of all deadly crashes are caused by distracted drivers.

Analysis of the bill revealed:

“According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, a 2016 survey revealed that more than 56% of California drivers said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver who was talking or texting on a cell phone. In addition, the survey indicated that 40% of drivers admitted to making a mistake while talking on a cell phone.”

The bill’s author, Assemblymember Tom Daly (D- 69th District), “Driving while using a cell phone is a serious safety issue. In 2017, there were 243,760 distracted driving offenses in California related to cell phone use. During that same year, there were 932 collisions – 31 of which were fatal – where distracted driving due to
cell phone use was determined as the factor. Currently, driving while using a cell phone results in a small fine (oftentimes less than a parking ticket), but it has not proven to change behavior.”

California’s Wireless Communications Device Law went into effect on January 1, 2009. It bans people from writing, sending or reading text messages while behind the wheel. The handheld wireless telephone law went into effect on July 1, 2008. It prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless phone while operating a motor vehicle. In 2017, drivers could no longer hold cell phones for any reason, including to use map apps or music.

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