LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - California has become the largest U.S. state to ban text messaging while driving -- a growing practice in cities like Los Angeles where gridlock turns four wheels into a virtual second office.
The ban on texting while driving, backed by fines starting at $20 per offense, will come into force on January 1. It closes a loophole in a law requiring hands-free only talking on cellphones while driving that took effect in July but which failed to include text messaging.
"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," California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, signing the bill on Wednesday.
Seven other U.S. states have bans on text-messaging while driving. A recent survey by the lawyers web site Findlaw.com found that 75 percent of U.S. drivers aged 18-34 said they had sent a text message, instant message or email while driving.
California authorities last week slapped a temporary ban on certain railroad workers using cellphones or text-messaging devices while working, in the wake of a train crash in Los Angeles that killed 25 people and injured 135.
Investigators are probing reports that the train driver may have been texting around the time of the head-on collision with a freight train.
In Los Angeles -- king of the drive-thru restaurant, bank, and dry cleaner -- motorists spend hours stuck in their cars on gridlocked freeways and frequently use that time to apply make-up, eat, drink, read, conduct business and have sex.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Patricia Reaney