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John Bisnar
John Bisnar
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New Law Restricting Cell Phone Use in Automobiles

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With the stated intended purpose of reducing automobile accidents caused by driver distraction, California Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law The California Wireless Telephone Automobile Safety Act of 2006. Generally the Act prohibits drivers from using a wireless phone while operating a vehicle, unless the phone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free operation and is used in that manner.

Specifically the Act:
* Prohibits the use of cell phones by drivers unless the driver is using a hands-free device starting July 1, 2008.
* Allows drivers of commercial vehicles to use push-to-talk phones until July 1, 2011.
* Allows drivers to make emergency phone calls without using a hands-free device.
* Allows drivers of emergency response vehicles to use cell phone without a hands-free device.
* Prescribes that a violation of the act is an infraction and conviction is punishable by a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offenses.

Is it any wonder that Verizon Wireless, the nations largest wireless communications provider, who sells millions of dollars worth of hands-free devices for cell pones, had its lobbyist out in force in support of Senate Bill 1613 that became the Act. According to the 2003 study by the AAA;s Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of North Caroline, cell phone usage was only the eighth most common driver distraction.

The California Highway Patrol reported that of 441,334 traffic accidents in 2004, the investigating officer cited the driver’s cellular phone as a factor contributing to the traffic accident in 931 of the accidents. That’s 0.21% of the time.

With those statistic, was this a “Safety Act” or a revenue generator for campaign contributors and lobbyists clients?