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May 26, 2006

For More Information, Contact:
Paige Schoknecht at (650) 688-6384


SACRAMENTO – State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) announced today that SB 1613, his bill to require the use of hands-free cell phone devices while driving, passed the State Senate on Thursday on a 21-14 vote.  The bill now moves to the State Assembly.

SB 1613 would require California drivers who choose to use a cell phone while driving to use a hands-free device.  The bill allows exemptions for persons calling law enforcement or public safety agencies, as well as emergency services personnel driving authorized vehicles.

“Cell phones are the number one cause of distracted-driving accidents in California,” said Simitian.  “And accidents by drivers using hand-held cell phones outnumber those driving hands-free by a ratio of 25 to one.  The difference between hands-free and hand-held is life and death.”

Since 2001 the California Highway Patrol has been collecting data on distracted driving accidents, and in every single year since 2001 cell phones have been the #1 cause identified in distracted driving accidents.  In 2002 the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis estimated that cell phone use while driving was likely responsible for 2,600 deaths nationwide, 330,000 injuries and 1.5 million instances of property damage.  Here in the U.S., New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and the District of Columbia have all adopted hands-free laws. 

SB 1613 would take effect on July 1, 2008, to allow consumers time to adjust to the new law and to allow the DMV to update its driver education handbooks.  The penalty for a first offense is a fine of $20.  The bill was strongly opposed in the Senate by Sprint Nextel, but had the support of Verizon Wireless, as well as numerous public safety organizations. 

“I introduced the bill for one simple reason,” said Simitian.  “It will save lives.  No one would argue that just because we can’t eliminate all the distractions affecting driver safety, we shouldn’t eliminate the ones we can.  We have a readily available technology that costs next to nothing and saves lives.  Why on earth wouldn’t we use it?”

SB 1613 will be set for its next hearing in the Assembly Committee on Transportation in June.

For more information on SB 1613, visit