New cell phone rules |

New cell phone rules

Two state laws banning the use of hand-held cell phones go into effect today, and six officers from the California Highway Patrol will be out in force to issue tickets to area residents who ignore the rules.

Penalties are steep, with tickets of $76 given for a first offense and $190 for each additional offense, said Dina Hernandez, public affairs officer.

“It’s been out there for quite some time. I’m hoping people will be in compliance. They’ve had plenty of notice,” Hernandez said.

Today, officers will set up special enforcement teams in the Brunswick Basin area similar to speed traps positioned along dangerous stretches of Highway 49. There are no grace periods or warnings after July 1, and officers will pull over and ticket drivers using wireless phones.

Though adults are allowed to use hands-free devices including those that fit into the ear and speaker phone functions, young drivers will no longer be allowed to talk or text message their friends while driving, Hernandez said.

“If under 18, you can’t talk on the phone at all,” Hernandez said.

Statistics show teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in crashes, because they lack driving experience and are more vulnerable to distractions such as talking or texting on wireless devices, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“I think it’s a very good law, not only for kids but adults, too,” said David Nelson, owner of Falcon Driving School, who has been teaching teenagers to drive for 40 years.

He regularly observes drivers of all ages who neglect to follow basic driving rules, such as using turn signals when they are deep in phone conversations.

“When they’re out there on the road, they’re not putting their full attention on the driving task,” Nelson said.

Emergency calls for fire, law enforcement and medical help will still be allowed under the new laws.

The new law has made good business for wireless stores. At Verizon, requests for hand free devices have grown by an estimated 30 to 50 percent within the past couple of weeks as the state highway patrol has ramped up their awareness campaign, said Heidi Flato, a spokeperson for the company’s Northern California division.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail or call 477-4231.

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