California bill would ban teen drivers from using Smart car technology

by Torey Van Oot, Sacramento Bee

California minors are already banned from using their smartphones behind the wheel, even with a hands-free device.

But new legislation introduced in the state Senate would expand those rules to include their use of new technology while driving.

Senate Bill 194, by Stockton Democrat Cathleen Galgiani, would broaden the state’s ban on talking on the phone and texting while driving for motorists under 18, prohibiting those drivers from using any "electronic wireless communications device," even if it’s hands-free. The aim of that change is to make sure drivers with provisional licenses don’t use touch-screen or voice-command technologies that have been introduced in new car models.

Mercedes-Benz, for example, made headlines last month by announcing a new feature that provides Facebook access through a car.

Drivers caught breaking the law would face the same fines issued for violating the current hands-free law ‘ $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent stops. Those rates go up significantly when court fees are factored in.

Galgiani spokesman Thomas Lawson said the senator decided to introduce the bill after hearing from the California Highway Patrol about the dangerous and sometimes deadly effects of young teen drivers being distracted behind the wheel. He said the CHP, which is sponsoring the bill, estimates that half of all teens pulled over were texting or using other technology at the time of the violation.

"Even though they may not be manually distracted, they could be visually or cognitively distracted by using Siri and Bluetooth technology and touch-screen technology on the vehicles," he said. "This hopefully allows them to focus on the one task at hand. The most important task is driving."