New Law for California Drivers


California residents will face new restrictions on the use of cell phones and electronic devices this coming January thanks to Assemblyman Bill Quirk's (D) new bill AB 1785. The bill which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law this past week makes it illegal to hold a cell phone for any purpose while driving. Assemblyman Quirk is a champion of the Nanny State. This year alone has passed regulations for everything from balloons to fees for inedible kitchen grease. Something seemed off to me so I started reading more about the bill and the claims that were being made.

 According to Quirk “This bill targets the deadliest cause of distracted driving related crashes, the use of an electronic device while driving. The accidents, injuries and deaths associated with this form of distracted driving are completely preventable. I am proud that Governor Brown has agreed that it is time that we update our archaic laws on the issue and do our part to make sure drivers are focused on the road. This bill will save lives.” But does it?

Data shows there were 12 distracted driving deaths in 2015 statewide, a Sacramento Bee  story points out that the California average for automotive fatalities is about 3,300 per year. So Quirk's bill was drafted to prevent less than .05% of our annual traffic deaths, give or take. Contrast that to drunk driving, which accounts for nearly 30% of all automotive fatalities in California according to data from MADD. Now while SB 1046 which was also just signed into law will have an impact on Drunk Driving, it seems that AB 1785 will only be impacting revenue generation.

The National Safety Council's annual injury and fatality report, found that while the use of cellphones causes 26% of car accidents nationwide, just 5% of those accidents were due to texting. The vast majority of accidents were due to people being distracted by the conversation they were having, be they holding the phone up to their ear or using a hands free device. AB 1785 does nothing to prevent you from talking on the phone, in fact it states you can still use your phone so long as it is mounted to on the dash or windshield. Voice to text, call, check maps, heck you can even update your Facebook status, just don't do it while holding the phone.

Now if you were a family or friend of one of those twelve people killed in California, your life was changed forever by a tragic event, but when I see bills being passed that will have little to no impact on actually saving lives, it makes me wonder, what is the real purpose of this legislation.

Who is the benefactor of AB 1785 you ask? Well the great state of California, your local municipality, and the agencies that get to write tickets as a means of generating revenue. According to MapLight.orgQuirk is one of the top recipients of campaign contributions in the Assembly from public safety and public employee unions, both groups that like increasing revenue.  

Stats from Quirk's own press release show that statewide 426,000 citations were issued under the current law in 2013 when it was only illegal for drivers to be holding a phone and talking or texting while driving. Other uses of the phone, like using a map, were ruled legal by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012. After searching, 2013 was the most recent data I could find via the DMV or any other government agency on the number of citations issued, but we can assume that number has likely increased as departments have been placing officers at off ramps and intersections with the express purpose of catching cell phone users (i.e. Cell Phone Sting). The cell phone ticket has been a great source of revenue for cities, counties, and the state since 2009, this bill expands its reach.

Consumer information site shows that while the state fine is $20, the average ticket in California for a first time offence ends up costing the driver $162 after all the fees that get tacked on. These tickets generated millions of dollars in revenue, with the fine increasing with each subsequent offense the incentive is clear for departments to keep writing tickets.

While we all need to be responsible behind the wheel, this bill is designed for one purpose only, to generate cash flow for state and local agencies. Don't worry police are still exempt from the cell phone and texting laws. So drive safe and come January update your status while using a suction cup mount.