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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Publisher’s Notebook

• SB 28 Is a Twofer for Malibu •

BY ANNE SOBLE

A bill approved by the state Senate on Monday could help tackle two serious problems at the same time. SB 28 might make Pacific Coast Highway safer and contribute mightily to the state’s dwindling coffers. Everyone in Malibu would second both objectives, right? Maybe yes, maybe no, as gauged by observations of the motorists on Malibu’s main artery.
The bill now headed to the Assembly for action would increase the fines for using a handheld device while driving. Using handheld phones while driving became illegal in California in July 2008 with a base fine of $20 per violation. The base fine would increase to $50 per violation under SB 28. With various fees, a first offense would cost $328, up from the current $208. Fees would be the same for the texting-while-driving component that first took effect in January 2009.
Some three years after California law prohibited the use of a handheld cell phone while driving, the data and public consensus hold that too many people are still talking and texting while at the wheel. One response is that the current fines do not appear to be a sufficient deterrent for the one-third of the drivers who ignore the law, although there are valid questions about the degree of enforcement in some jurisdictions.
If over 30 percent of drivers are flouting the law, that is described by traffic experts as being comparable to over 30 percent of the drivers on the road at a set time being impaired by alcohol and drugs. The potential for accidents increases exponentially.
Under the new bill, a repeat offender would be fined $100, or $528 with fees. A subsequent violation would add one point to the the violator’s driving record.
The public policy objective is use of deterrence and education to achieve compliance near the 90-plus percent that is reportedly now the case for seat belt use. Under SB 28, $10 from each fine would go to a fund to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.
The bill also would make it illegal to talk on a handheld communication device while riding a bicycle, an all too frequent sight with the cyclists on Pacific Coast Highway where distraction might prove fatal.
California Highway Patrol statistics show a reduction in collisions and fatals in the first year after the 2008 handsfree law went into effect. Analysis of later years’ crash data shows the same downward trend, but because drivers are often reluctant to acknowledge they were using a handheld device when an accident occurs, this cannot be attributed solely to the law.
The Senate’s action may have been given a symbolic boost by the fact that April had been declared “Distracted Drivers Awareness Month.” If the measure becomes law, it could have a lot more impact than any symbolic designation on the calendar. If it makes a difference on PCH, or any other road for that matter, all objections are hereby overruled.

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