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CA law could increase penalties for texting while driving

Posted at 6:36 PM, Mar 01, 2019

A texting while driving offense already carries a fine in California but a newly proposed state law could allow the offense to tarnish a person’s driving record for several years.

Assembly Bill 47, sponsored by Rep. Jim Frazier (D-Discovery Bay), would assess a point to a person’s driving record for texting while driving.

San Luis Obispo Police Sgt. Jeff Booth believes the increased penalty is necessary because he says so many people disregard the current rules banning the behavior.

“Everybody is so connected to their digital life, they can’t put it down even when they are driving,” Booth said.

Booth says he frequently stops drivers for texting and fines them more than $100 for having their hands on the phone instead of the wheel.

Booth says the culprits are easy to spot.

“You don’t necessarily stay in your lane,” Booth said. “(They’re) stopped at a green light instead of a red light.”

Nick Sullivan, a risk manager for Morris and Garritano Insurance in San Luis Obispo, says his office processes countless claims related to phone use by motorists.

“Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of auto accidents,” Sullivan said.

According to National Transportation Safety officials, five seconds is the average time a person’s eyes are off the road while texting. If the vehicle is traveling 55 mph, the driver has practically traveled the length of a football field while blindfolded.

The latest state transportation data shows more than 422,000 phone citations were issued to California motorists in 2013. Booth and Sullivan agree that the number of motorists texting behind the wheel has increased since 2013 with the rising popularity of services like Lyft and Uber.

Under the new law, a person caught texting and driving could be assessed a point on his or her driving record.

Other offenses that receive at least one point include speeding, running a red light, and causing an accident.

Points typically stay on a person’s record for three years.

“Violations add up and especially if (insurance companies) see a trend with any one individual, that’s cause for concern,” Sullivan said.

Points demonstrate a higher risk to insurance carriers, who may respond with a higher premium.

“Underwriters are getting much more strict in their evaluation and level of risk they’re comfortable with taking,” Sullivan said. “So they are looking for best-in-class drivers.”

If the law passes, it would go into effect in 2021.