Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 28, which would have significantly increased fines for using a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving or texting while driving. It also would have penalized bicyclists for using a cell phone while biking.

In his Sept. 6 veto message, Brown wrote, “I certainly support discouraging cell phone use while driving a car, but not ratcheting up the penalties as prescribed by this bill. For people of ordinary means, current fines and penalty assessments should be sufficient deterrent.”

The measure’s author, State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), called the veto “a lost opportunity to save more lives.” Simitian said in his press release that he would, “review the Governor’s veto message to see if there is any room for compromise in the coming year.”

Simitian introduced S.B. 28 this year because he felt the original 2008 legislation establishing the fine for cell phone use while driving was not a sufficient deterrent. Research by the AAA Automobile Club of Southern California and the State’s Office of Traffic Safety suggests a 60 to 70 percent compliance rate with California’s hands-free driving law.

Simitian said, in an interview with the Town Crier prior to the veto, that infractions had been increasing since the bill’s original enactment and felt stiffer penalties were needed to curb the rise of illegal use.

California Highway Patrol (CHP) data from the first year of the hands-free law’s implementation show a 20 percent reduction in fatalities and collisions in California compared to the annual average over the previous three to five years. The CHP data also show an immediate drop of 40 to 50 percent in the number of distracted driving accidents attributed to cell phones after the law went into effect. But Simitian said he thought the state could do better.

“I’m disappointed,” said Simitian in a press release after being informed about the veto. “But the Governor gets the last word. I understand and accept that. My job now is to figure out where do we go from here.”

Simitian has authored three “distracted driving” bills.