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Higher penalties for phone-/text-driving?

April 6, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Talking on a mobile phone while driving or texting could soon cost you more. A state senator is pushing for harsher fines for violators who don't use a hands-free device.For those California drivers who still violate the law and text or use a handheld mobile phone while driving, there is Brian Nelson's story.

Nelson walks slow and with a limp now because of a mobile-phone-gabbing driver who hit him while riding his bike last summer.

"The gentleman didn't see me and he plowed right into me," said Nelson. "He didn't see me at all." Nelson ended up on the hood of the car clinging for dear life.

The author of the original mobile-phone driving ban convinced a state Senate committee to approve a crackdown on Californians who continue to break the law by hitting them in their wallets harder.

The fine for talking on a handheld phone or texting while driving is currently $20 for the first offense. State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has has proposed an increase in the fine to $50, plus a point on your driving record.

Repeat offenses would double from $50 to $100, and a point would also be added to your driving record.

"The notion here is a somewhat more significant fine, we'd have a greater deterrent and save more lives," said Simitian. "It's really just that simple."

The California Highway Patrol says traffic collisions and fatalities dropped 20 percent from the previous five-year average before California's hands-free law took effect.

But that point on a driving record worries commercial truckers, who could lose their jobs.

"Truck drivers, we can't go to school to get it off our record, although other motorists can," said truck driver Basil DeAnda.

Brian Nelson, though, says the stiffer penalties are necessary, given his leg will never be the same again because of that one driver who was distracted by his cell phone.

"He wasn't paying attention to the law, basically, not only took his life into his hands, but took my life into his hands," said Nelson.

Any local jurisdictions will add on court costs and other fees to the ticket, so the $50 fine is actually more like $255, and a $100 ticket is more like $450.