Prosecutors in Bakersfield and Shafter started licking their chops the moment that Governor Brown signed a much-tougher cellphone law.
Assembly Bill 1785 “update[s] our archaic laws on the issue” and helps ensure that the government does its part “to make sure drivers are focused on the road,” according to the measure’s sponsor Bill Quirk (D-Hayward). Last year, about 1,200 collisions in California involved cellphone-induced distracted driving. Law enforcement also hailed the measure. CHP Officer Florentino Olivera predicted that the new law “will help us a lot,” because officers believe that more people are taking pictures and posting on social media than talking or texting.
The base fines remain the same ($20 plus penalty assessments for a first conviction and $50 plus penalty assessments for a subsequent conviction).
When the Legislature passed the cellphone laws in 2006 and 2008, smartphones weren’t quite as commonplace as they are today, so the laws only banned talking and texting. Despite aggressive enforcement, the number of citations kept dropping, so most legislators felt the need to act. The good news about AB 1785 is that it eliminates the need for “textalyzers” and other highly-invasive enforcement methods. But that may be about the only good news, because using an app, surfing the web, reading a map and other non-prohibited uses are often the best defense under the current law.
However, all is certainly not lost. The state still has the burden of proof, and even under the broader law, it is not illegal to hold a phone and look at a screen. To support a conviction, there must be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was “holding and operating” a cellphone. That one provision may be more than enough to get a “not guilty.”
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