Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law Wednesday to ban the practice. The move comes less than two weeks after a commuter train sped through a red light and crashed into a freight train, killing dozens of people and injuring over 100. Investigators are trying to determine whether the train's engineer sent a text message just before the accident occurred.
The ban applies to cars only, but the Los Angeles-area train crash highlighted the dangers of operating a moving vehicle while texting. It takes effect Jan. 1.
The law, introduced by California Sen. Joe Simitian, prohibits the use of all electronic devices to write, send, or read text while driving. Offenders face a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 fines for each subsequent offense.
Schwarzenegger said that the ban would "keep drivers' hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, making our roadways a safer place for all Californians."
Washington state outlawed texting while driving in 2007. Alaska, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Minnesota, and New Jersey followed suit. Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are considering similar legislation.
A survey by Harris Interactive last year showed that 92% of Americans think driving while distracted by text messages or e-mail is as dangerous as driving after drinking alcoholic beverages. While 89% of American adults think it should be outlawed, 66% of adults who drive and have used text messages admitted reading them while driving.
The worst offenders are adults between the ages of 18 and 34. They accounted for 64% of adults who admitted to sending text messages while driving.