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The California State Assembly is currently considering a controversial bill to tighten the rules regarding cell phone use while driving.

Currently VC 23123 prohibits using cell phones in most circumstances, unless the device is a hands-free device specifically configured for driving. There is some evidence that hands-free devices are even worse than hand-held devices, but that point is not addressed in the proposed amendment, which was introduced by Assemblymen Jim Frazier (D-Solano) this past February. However, AB 1646 would make it illegal for a police officer to initiate a stop for no reason other than a suspected cell phone violation. But, the bill also roughly doubles the total bail for cell phone tickets, to $285 for a first offense and $490 for a second offense. In addition, a second offense would be a one-point violation in Kern County, one of the only non-moving violations that counts as a point against your drivers' license.

The restriction on police power is laudable, but the money-grab is truly lamentable. Like the speeding laws, AB 1646 is basically a revenue-generation device. The governor has already warned legislators not to take things too far and effectively turn traffic tickets into highway user fees, but the legislature may not be listening. This bill would be a major burden to drivers, who are already hard-pressed to pay a speeding ticket fine. Now, they must come up with an additional $500 in some cases. The high cost of the ticket will also further crowd the courts with defendants fighting the ticket to avoid high insurance rates and fines.

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