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State's distracted driving laws may get tougher

Distracted driving is involved in almost 10% of traffic fatalities in California. To help combat these car accidents, the California legislature unanimously passed a measure that would add one point to a motorist's record if they are caught texting or holding a phone while driving.

If signed into law by the governor, the measure will take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The bill was amended in committee to allow the addition of this point only if the motorist was caught texting or holding a phone within 36 months of a previous violation.

Currently, state law allows a driver to use a telephone while driving if the device is designed and made for hands-free listening and talking. Drivers under 19-years-old cannot use any phone even if it is a hands-free device.

Since 2009, California's Wireless Communications Device Law banned motorists from writing, sending or reading text messages while driving. Drivers have been prohibited since 2017 from holding a handheld wireless phone and driving for any reason such as using map apps or listening to music.

The bill's sponsor said that these existing laws did not deter distracted driving. In 2017, there were 243,760 offenses in the state involving cell phone use. There were also 932 collisions involving distracted driving in California in 2017. Thirty-one of these crashes were fatal.

Texting while driving increases the odds of an accident by two to eight times, according to the AAA. Speaking on the phone and driving, even with a hands-free device, multiplies the risk of a crash by four.

According to a 2016 survey by the California Office of Traffic Safety, over 56% of California drivers said they were hit or nearly hit by a driver who was using a personal electronic device. Also, 40% of drivers acknowledged making driving errors while speaking on the phone.

The Department of Motor Vehicles can refuse to issue or renew a license to a driver who accumulates at least four points in 12 months, six points in 24 months or eight points in 36 months. Insurers can also change premiums based on the number of points on a driver's record.

Victims of these illegal and reckless behavior or their families may be entitled to compensation. An attorney can help pursue this right in a lawsuit

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