Shortly after a ban on handheld cell phone use while operating a vehicle went into effect in California, text messaging while driving will also soon be banned.

On Wednesday, September 24th, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that prohibits drivers from using text messaging devices while operating a vehicle.

The law will go into effect January 1st.

“Banning electronic text messaging while driving will keep drivers’ hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, making our roadways a safer place for all Californians,” Schwarzenegger said.

Senate Bill (SB) 28, authored by Senator Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, specifically bans the use of an electronic wireless communications device to write, send or read a text-based communication while driving.

The bill will impose a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.

“I am gratified by the governor’s action,” said Simitian. “Texting while driving is so obviously unsafe that it’s hard to believe anyone would attempt it; yet everyday observation suggests there are an awful lot of folks who do.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl agrees.

“I totally agree with the governor on it,” he said. “I think it’s another safety issue. Text messaging requires some contact with your fingers and the pad as well as your eyes looking down at what you’re text messaging. How can you at the same time go 60 miles per hour? I don’t think it works.

“I think people need a break from the addiction. It’s dangerous.

“I think people should turn on some soothing music and stay focused on the road rather than be constantly engaged with everything outside the automobile.”

According to a study by Transport Research Laboratory, texting behind the wheel is more dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol or marijuana.

“We feel it’s definitely dangerous if you’re distracted while you’re driving,” said Sgt. Renaldi Thruston of the Santa Monica Police Department. “That was the purpose of the new law which prohibits driving and talking on the cell phone.

“This will create a safer environment for drivers if they follow the law, and if they don’t and they’re in Santa Monica, our motor officers will cite them once the law is in effect.”

Thruston even noted that texting while driving is probably more dangerous than talking on a hand-held cell phone “because you have to look at the keys and at some point you take your eyes off the road.”

The California Public Utilities Commission recently banned train personnel in California from using cell phones or other wireless devices while on duty, after a Metrolink train crashed head-on into a freight train in Chatsworth September 12th, killing 25 and injuring 135.

The engineer, who failed to stop for a red light, was allegedly sending and receiving text messages, although investigators don’t yet know whether his cell phone use was the cause of the crash, said the National Transportation Safety Board.

The ban on text messaging will complement an existing law — also authored by Simitian — which Schwarzenegger signed in 2006, that prohibits all drivers from using a hand-held cell phone while operating a vehicle.

Drivers 18 and over may use a hands-free device, but drivers under the age of 18 may not use a cell phone or a hands-free device while operating a vehicle. This law went into effect July 1st.

Thruston says that the law is enforced in Santa Monica, just as the text messaging one will be.

“No one can drive safely, look at a cell phone screen, and type, all at the same time,” says Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown. “Who wants to send a ‘Twitter’ text message saying, ‘Oops, I just hit a pedestrian?’ If you want to Twitter, don’t be a twit. Pull over.”

(Twitter is a Web site and a service that lets users send short text messages from their cell phones to a group of friends.)