Back-Seat Driver

California law lets you fiddle with phone while driving – sometimes

A motorist uses a cell phone while driving in Sacramento on Tuesday, August 10, 2010. Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, is ready to upgrade California’s once groundbreaking cellphone restrictions by introducing AB 1785. The new bill would not allow drivers to do anything with their smartphones while driving, unless the phone is out of their hands, mounted on the car dashboard or console.
A motorist uses a cell phone while driving in Sacramento on Tuesday, August 10, 2010. Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, is ready to upgrade California’s once groundbreaking cellphone restrictions by introducing AB 1785. The new bill would not allow drivers to do anything with their smartphones while driving, unless the phone is out of their hands, mounted on the car dashboard or console. RBenton@sacbee.com

A California Office of Traffic Safety study came up with this unsurprising but alarming finding last week: 1 out of every 10 drivers on the road is paying as much attention to his or her smartphone as to the road ahead.

That’s illegal, right? Not necessarily.

It’s definitely illegal in California to talk into or text on a hand-held cellphone. But it’s not explicitly illegal to scroll through your phone’s music playlist by hand while driving or to take photos with your phone’s camera from behind the wheel. The law also is silent on whether you can hold your phone in your hand to read the phone’s map, or search on an app for the nearest pizzeria or gas station.

That’s because the state’s groundbreaking cellphone restrictions were written years ago, before phone apps, maps and cameras came into common use. Keep in mind, though, that anything you do with your cellphone – in hand or not – that causes you to drive erratically is a no-no and could lead to a citation.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, thinks it’s time for state law to join the modern world. He’s introduced AB 1785, which says drivers aren’t allowed to do anything with their smartphones while driving, unless the phone is out of their hands, mounted on the car dashboard or console, and can be activated by a single swipe or the pushing of one button.

“The whole idea is you don’t have the phone in your hand, period,” he said. The bill has support in law enforcement, and, so far, there is little opposition.

Did you know that when you send or receive a text you take your eyes off the road for 5 seconds? At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded.

Party at light rail

Hey, party planners. Sacramento officials are looking to hire someone to promote transit by turning light rail stations into party sites when the downtown Sacramento sports and entertainment arena opens this fall.

They’re talking about bands and DJs, purple and black face painting, Kings paraphernalia giveaways, and games and competitions. The Sacramento Area Council of Goverments has up to $100,000 to spend on the effort. Events could be held at 15 or more stations over a six-month period. Some of the money could be spent on promoting biking and walking as well.

Meanwhile, Sacramento Regional Transit this summer is refurbishing the station closest to the arena, at Seventh Street and Capitol Mall, and is planning on having volunteer “ambassadors” at stations to help first-timers. RT also is training 25 new transit officers to patrol trains.

Monica Hernandez of SACOG called the opening of the arena a “catalytic opportunity.”

“We’re looking forward to changing people’s perceptions,” she said. “Light rail will be reliable, and is a lot easier than (non-riders) think.”

Placer to vote on sales tax

The Placer County Transportation Planning Agency board last week unanimously agreed to ask that county’s voters in November for a half-cent sales tax increase to raise $1.6 billion to help fix roads, expand freeways and add some transit.

The county supervisors, and city and town councils, all have given their thumbs up as well.

The tax, which would last for 30 years, appears to have general public support, but it needs to pass by a two-thirds majority to be enacted. That is a tough hurdle. Leaders say they think voters will go for it, though.

“Our road conditions are ... getting worse,” said Roseville Vice Mayor Susan Rohan, who leads the agency. “It’s impacting our quality of life and our economy, and it’s very clear that the state and federal governments are not coming to our rescue.”

For more information, go to www.keepplacermoving.com.

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