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New driving laws go into effect

With the beginning of 2009, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) started pulling over drivers who are text messaging while driving, and lawmakers are adding more penalties in an effort to keep repeat offenders of drunk driving off the road.

Driving regulation SB28 makes it an infraction to write, send or read text-based communications on an electronic wireless communications device, such as a cell phone, while driving a motor vehicle. Previously, this was only illegal for individuals under 18 years of age.

CHP Officer Eric Newbury said the law is simply a way to solidify that “hands-free means hands-free” while driving and should have come into effect when the hands-free phone call while driving law was activated.

“The whole basis for this law is that drivers focus on driving, not on their phone,” said Newbury. “Too many people die; it’s either because they’re not paying attention or fall asleep.”

Newbury said once the law is in action, there will be no “grace period” for drivers who text message while driving, as the new law is “common sense.”

Lawmakers are also trying to add more consequences to keep drunk drivers off the road. New laws include prohibiting a convicted DUI offender from operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .01 percent or greater while on probation for the DUI, zero tolerance for convicted DUI offenders and a reduced BAC for a time of arrest.

However, Newbury believes that while lawmakers are trying to be stricter with repeat DUI offenders, the new laws are not strict enough. He said that even though the new laws allow the CHP to write more tickets for violators, he is “not very optimistic” about their impact.

“In my opinion, these people should get one strike, then be sent to prison,” he said. “They are a menace to society and can kill someone. That’s the risk they take.”

Newbury said he and fellow CHP officers are frustrated with “multiple offenders,” or people who have driven drunk before but have not gotten caught.

“We can try to educate these people, but I don’t know if education is enough,” said Newbury. “There are citizens out there who did make a genuine mistake and can be sent to classes, but these people think they’re okay to drive because they aren’t ‘sloppy drunk.’ That’s a myth.”

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