Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, recalled being nearly struck by a Southern California driver who spun out on the highway. The driver was still clutching his cell phone to his ear when his vehicle finally came to a stop, Cedillo said. He saw another driver run a red light in Sacramento, “completely oblivious” as she talked away. Simitian has tried similar legislation the past five years, in both the Assembly and Senate, without success. He said the experiences in other states, drivers’ growing awareness that cell phones are a distraction, and phone providers’ own warnings are reasons the bill should now become law. Insurance companies and emergency-workers associations supported the bill, as did Verizon Wireless, while Sprint Nextel was opposed.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SACRAMENTO – Motorists would have to use hands-free devices if they want to talk on cell phones while they are driving, under a bill approved by state senators Thursday. Cell-phone calls are a distraction to drivers no matter what devices they use, said Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. But he said letting drivers keep both hands on the wheel at least will help them react more quickly. “The additional improvement in control is the difference between life and death,” he said. The bill was approved on a 21-14 vote. It now goes to the Assembly, where Simitian said he will try to work out problems including how to regulate the use of “push-to-talk” walkie-talkie-style cell phones. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2The legislation would take effect in July 2008, with a $20 fine for a first violation and $50 for repeat violations. New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., have similar laws but with higher fines. “We know from the California Highway Patrol that cell phones are the No. 1 cause of distracted-driver accidents on California highways the last five years,” Simitian said. “We know that it puts not only the driver but the rest of the public at risk. As long as we’re going to do it, let’s do it safely.” Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Culver City, countered that multiple national studies suggest that holding the phone isn’t the problem – talking on it is. Using a cell phone while driving is “no different than talking to your kids in the back of the car or changing the radio,” Murray said. “Doing this (hands-free requirement) is a Band-Aid that makes us feel more comfortable but does nothing.” Sen. Richard Alarc n, D-Van Nuys, said California’s requirement could prompt manufacturers to make cell phones safer to use while driving, though he noted that millions of cell-phone calls are made by drivers without mishap.