SACRAMENTO — Everyone knows not to get caught DWI, but tech-savvy drivers may soon be outlawed from engaging in DWT -- driving while texting.
Trying to keep pace with advances in technology, a divided state Senate approved a measure Thursday that would outlaw text messaging by motorists in California.
"Texting while driving is so obviously unsafe that it's hard to believe anyone would attempt it, yet everyday observation suggests there are an awful lot of folks who do," said Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who wrote SB 28. The measure now goes to the governor, who has said he will not sign any bills until the Legislature approves a budget.
The bill was approved on a 25-14 vote, with heavy opposition from Republicans who see the legislation as unnecessary interference in personal behavior. Only two Republicans voted for the measure.
"There is already sufficient law that can be applied if someone is driving while distracted," said Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), who voted against the bill. "We don't need a law for everything a driver does. The next one is going to be you can't drive while you are eating a hamburger."
Backers of the bill argue that text messaging has become nearly as ubiquitous as talking on a cellphone -- an activity that the Legislature has already outlawed for underage drivers. (Adults may talk on the telephone while driving, but only if they use a hands-free device.)
The governor has yet to make a final decision on the bill. However, he did voice concerns about text messaging when he signed the legislation that restricting cellphone use by motorists.
Cellphones, BlackBerrys and larger electronic devices all give users the ability to type and deliver text messages. Some 57% of people admit having sent text messages or e-mails while sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle, while 66% have read messages while driving, according to a survey last year by the mobile messaging service Pinger.
The survey found that 89% of American adults believe sending text messages while driving is dangerous and should be outlawed.
Violators of the law would face a potential $20 fine for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. The bill prohibits driving any motor vehicle while "using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication," which includes e-mails. If signed into law, the measure would take effect Jan. 1.
The bill is backed by wireless companies including Motorola and T-Mobile.
The insurance companies Liberty Mutual and State Farm, as well as the California Bicycle Coalition and the Center for Auto Safety, also support the measure.
Simitian said he has been challenged many times by people who wonder why the Senate has to legislate something that is common sense. "Regrettably, common sense isn't always that common," he said.
The text-message bill was passed on the same day the Senate approved dozens of other bills, and unanimously elected veteran Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) as the next Senate president pro tem.
Steinberg called for his colleagues to "rise above partisanship" in trying to solve California's current budget crisis.
He pledged to improve the state's education and healthcare systems and to solve what he called the state's "maddening" financial problems.
"I will give every ounce of my energy, every ounce of my intellect . . . to work with you, to work with the people of California to accomplish great things," said Steinberg, who takes over as leader of the Senate on Nov. 30.
Other bills approved Thursday by the Senate include SB 1230, which would outlaw using detergents with specific levels of phosphorus starting July 1, 2010. Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) wrote the bill, citing the health risk.
Another measure that was approved would require carbon-monoxide alarms in homes that have fossil fuel-burning appliances, fireplaces or attached garages, starting in July 2010. SB 1386 was written by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).