California minors are already banned from using their smart phones behind the wheel, even with a hands-free device. But new legislation introduced in the state Senate last week would expand those rules to include the use of new smart car technology while driving.
Senate Bill 194, by Stockton Democrat Cathleen Galgiani, would expand the state's ban on talking on the phone and texting while driving for motorists under 18, prohibiting those drivers from using any "electronic wireless communications device," even if it's hands free. The aim of that change is to make sure drivers with provisional licenses don't use touch-screen or voice-command technologies that have been introduced in new car models. Mercedes-Benz USA, for example, made headlines last month by announcing a new feature that provides Facebook access through a car.
Drivers caught breaking the law would face the same fines issued for violating the current hands-free law - $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent stops. Those rates go up significantly when you factor court fees.
Galgiani spokesman Thomas Lawson said the senator decided to introduce the bill after hearing from the California Highway Patrol about the dangerous and sometimes deadly effects of young teen drivers being distracted behind the wheel. He said CHP, which is sponsoring the bill, estimates that half of all teens pulled over were texting or using other technology are the time of the violation.
"Even though they may not be manually distracted, they could be visually or cognitively distracted by using Siri and blue-tooth technology and touch-screen technology on the vehicles," he said. "This hopefully allows them to focus on the one task at hand. The most important task is driving."
PHOTO CREDIT: New driver Brandi Eadie, 16, looks down at her cell phone to read a text message as she drives through a rubber-cone course in Seattle on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010 to demonstrate the dangers of phone use while driving. AP Photo/ Elaine Thompson.