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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                          
May 13, 2008
For More Information, Contact:
Sarah Mason at (916) 651-4011


– State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) announced today that research conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) estimates 300-900 lives will be saved annually once California’s hands-free cell phone law goes into effect.

“We now know from the experience of three other states and the District of Columbia that we’ll be saving hundreds of lives a year once California’s hands-free law takes effect,” said Simitian.  While the PPIC study did not assess the impact on non-fatal injury accidents and property damage, Simitian said he estimates the new law will result in “several thousand fewer injury accidents” and “tens of thousands fewer accidents involving property damage.”

The PPIC report looked at data from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and the District of Columbia, each of which has a hands-free law.  While previous studies have attempted to assess the benefit of hands-free technology, the PPIC examined the actual impact of hands-free laws on fatal traffic accidents using real data from those states which have already enacted a hands-free law.

“Drivers make real-time decisions that can’t be measured in a lab,” said Jed Kolko, Research Fellow at PPIC and the author of What To Expect From California’s New Hands-Free Law. “They decide whether and when to use their phones. The question is how these laws might change drivers’ likelihood of using any mobile phone, whether it’s handheld or hands-free.”

As Simitian noted, “When PPIC looked at traffic data from the three states and the District of Columbia, it was clear that every one of the jurisdictions with a hands-free law had significantly reduced traffic fatalities.”

Simitian’s SB 1613, which takes effect July 1, requires 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 something like 15 to one.  The difference between hands-free and hand-held is the difference between life and death.”

Penalties for violating the new law are modest:  $20 for a first offense and $50 for a second and subsequent offense.  Once administrative fees and court costs are factored in, however, violators will pay around $75 for a first offense and around $175 for a second and subsequent offense. 

“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?”

Simitian’s SB 33, which prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a cell phone at all, also takes effect on July 1, 2008.

For more information about SB 1613, please visit

For more information about the PPIC study “What To Expect From California’s New Hands-Free Law”, please visit