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September 24, 2007

Calif. governor signs law to ban teen cell phone use while driving

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed SB 33 by Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, banning teenage drivers from using all electronic devices — such as cell phones, pagers and laptops — while behind the wheel.

“The simple fact is that teenage drivers are more easily distracted. They are young, inexperienced and have a slower reaction time. We want to eliminate any extra distractions so they can focus on paying attention to the road and being good drivers,” Schwarzenegger said.

According to the California Highway Patrol, cell phone use is a leading cause of distracted-driver accidents in California. A study conducted by Ford Motor Co. revealed that teenage drivers are four times more distracted than adult drivers by cell phone use. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 16- to 20-year-olds. Motor vehicle crashes account for 44 percent of teen deaths in the United States, with approximately 6,000 teenage drivers or passengers dying each year.

Despite the fact that young drivers represent only 6.3 percent of the nation’s licensed drivers, they are involved in 13.6 percent of fatal crashes, the Governor’s office said in a statement. According to a 2004 study from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, drivers ages 16 to 19 have a fatality rate that is four times the rate of drivers ages 25 to 69.

Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have laws restricting the use of wireless communication devices by new and inexperienced drivers. The National Transportation Safety Board has urged all states to enact legislation to prohibit inexperienced drivers from using cell phones and other mobile service devices while driving.

SB 33 takes effect on July 1, 2008 — the same date as a law Governor Schwarzenegger signed last year that requires all drivers to use hands-free devices while talking on cell phones. Violating either law will result in a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for each additional offense. Both laws also provide exemptions for emergency calls.

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