Cell phone ban for drivers saves lives

As California’s cell phone ban for drivers approaches its fourth birthday, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley announced Monday that the law has saved a significant number of lives.

The study looked at data from two years before and two years after the 2008 law went into effect. It found overall traffic deaths have decreased by 22 percent, and deaths blamed on hand-held cell phones are down 47 percent.

Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association in Washington, told the Merc:

“That’s a big drop. We were surprised by the numbers. It shows that enforcement works, that other states should look at what California has done and follow its lead.”

While common sense might argue that using a phone while driving is unsafe, it’s still legal to text or talk on them while driving in 12 states. It’s also not hard to spot drivers on California roads still yapping away behind the wheel.

Many people in California including state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto and author of California’s anti-cell phone legislation) argue that California’s $20 fine is simply too small to prevent people from breaking the law.

Governor Jerry Brown apparently disagrees – he vetoed a bill last year that would have raised the existing fine to $30.

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles reported over 400,000 convictions in 2011 for driving while using a handheld device, up 52 percent from 2009.