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New Law: Texting, Driving Don’t Mix

If you are inclined to send a phone text message about something you read in today’s Courier, make sure you aren’t driving while you’re doing it—you’ll be breaking the law.

On Jan. 1, California became the sixth state in the nation to outlaw text-messaging in some form. The California law makes it illegal to write, read or send a text-message while operating a motor vehicle.

It comes on the heels of a July 1 law that restricts adult drivers to hands-free devices when talking on a cellular telephone and drivers under 18 from using any cell phone or electronic message device while driving.

According to reports, 19 percent of drivers recently surveyed by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. admitted that they texted while driving.

Another survey by Vlingo Corp., a firm that makes voice-activated devices for cell phones, showed that 28 percent of respondees said that they read and sent text messages while they were driving.

Those figures only represent people who admitted texting while driving. The true figures likely are much higher than that.

A study by the British Royal Automobile Foundation reached the conclusion that texting while driving was more distracting than than being drunk of high on marijuana.

Cell phone usage was a a factor in 61 deaths and almost 3,500 injuries on California thoroughfares in 2002-2007, the California Highway Patrol reports.

Beverly Hills Police Department Lt. Mark Rosen called the law a necessary one.

“It’s an excellent law,” Rosen said. “The intent of the law is to make cell-phone use completely hands free. It makes the roads safer.”

According to Rosen, the texting law is a move to correct an oversight in the July 1 law, in which legislators in Sacramento left text messages out of the ordinance in their haste to pass cell-phone restrictions.

Although the earlier law in some jurisdictions apparently required another violation such as speeding a running a red light to authorize an officer to pull over someone who was using a cell phone, Rosen said Beverly Hills officers have the legal right to issue tickets for texting as a primary offense.

As with most violations, officers have the discretion to issue warnings instead of tickets to drivers pulled over on suspicion of texting.

Here are some more facts about the new texting law:
• Passengers are allowed to read and send text messages.
• Law enforcement officers are allowed to text while driving.
• Sending or reading a text message while at a red light or stop sign is against the law. Police consider you to be driving when you are stopped by a traffic signal.
• It is legal to send or read a text while pulled to the side of a road, except on a freeway, where you only are allowed to stop in an emergency.
• Cell phone users employing a hands-free device can’t be sited for punching in a number while they are driving.
• The law applies to out-of-state drivers, even if texting while driving is allowed in their state.
• Text messaging was never officially legal. Drivers could have been cited before for not having their hands on the wheel while texting. Texting just wasn’t specified as illegal until now.

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