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Proposal in California Ups Fines for Illegal Cell Phone Use, Adds Point to Record

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If State Senator Joe Simitian's proposal is approved by California legislators, misbehaving motorists are likely to find themselves in need of California driving schools to expunge points from their record.

That's because Simitian wants to strengthen the Golden State's laws on texting while driving, according to many news outlets. He proposed the original handsfree driving laws in California that caused a large drop in cell phone-related accidents, but feels that they are still not stringent enough to work effectively.

"While I think compliance is pretty good, there's room to save even more lives and avoid even more collisions," the Democrat said according to the Associated Press.

The current law stipulates a fine of $20. Revisions would increase that to $50 for the first offense of using a cell phone, with a point being added to one's record for each violation. Citations for texting while driving would bring a fine of $100, even for first time offenders.

Since nationally, using a cell phone contributes to roughly three in every ten accidents, Simitian says he is comfortable with making the law stronger, although the proposal is likely to anger two groups: bicyclists and tractor trailer drivers.

Truckers have already expressed concern that Simitian's legislation unfairly affects them: they cannot go to a California traffic school to take off points on their commercial driving licenses. Interestingly, the bill would apply the same penalties to bicyclists as drivers, meaning that texting while riding a Schwinn could bring the same fines as a driver in a Camry.

Studies have shown that texting while driving can be similar to driving while intoxicated, but the proposals that the California legislature are considering could bring in a significant number of new customers to online traffic schools, given that the California Highway Patrol has reported hundreds of thousands of citations in the past several years.

It's part of a growing movement to ban the use of mobile communications devices that has extended even to the federal government, where President Obama recently signed an order banning the practice by federal employees. Commercial drivers of buses and trucks engaged in interstate travel can be fined up to $2,750 in penalties, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.

Anecdotally, there is also support by victims of distracted drivers for the stronger legislation. Pedestrians have been struck in crosswalks by motorists worrying about text messages and phone calls, including Ben Nelson. He told ABC News that he was struck while riding a bicycle and now walks with a limp after the accident, having had to hang onto the car hood before the driver realized what had happened and slowed down.

Since legislation won't take effect until January 2011, drivers don't have to worry about the need for California driving schools just yet. But they may want to keep an eye out on the news to see whether Governor Schwarzenegger signs the stiffer bill into law; the consequences are much higher.