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Texters Beware—Police to Target Texting While Driving

Texting from behind the wheel will cost you, police say; first ticket minimum $159.

By David McCartney, Watsonville Police Lieutenant

How often do you see drivers texting or talking with hand-held cell phones and wish they would be stopped and cited? California’s second annual Distracted Driving Awareness Month this April will once again find law enforcement in Watsonville joining in statewide "zero tolerance" enforcement efforts for illegal cell phone use and texting violations. A ticket for violating either the hands free or no texting law costs a minimum of $159, and subsequent tickets cost $279.

Distracted driving is a serious traffic safety concern that puts everyone on the road at risk, joining speeding and alcohol as leading factors in fatal and serious injury crashes. As a result, law enforcement across the state, including Watsonville is increasingly cracking down on cell phone use and texting. Starting April 1 and throughout the month, WPD will join hundreds of police and sheriff departments plus the CHP conducting distracted driving enforcement operations.

Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. Younger, inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. In addition, studies show that texting while driving can delay a driver’s reaction time just as severely as having a blood alcohol content of a legally drunk driver.

“Changing the dangerous, illegal habit of using hand-held cell phones or texting while driving isn’t easy,” said Office of Traffic Safety Director Christopher J. Murphy. “But recent studies show that California’s cell and texting laws have made a big difference—cutting deaths by nearly half. But half is not enough.”

Studies show that there is no difference in the risks between hands-free and hand-held cell phone conversations, both of which can result in “inattention blindness” which occurs when the brain isn’t seeing what is clearly visible because the drivers’ focus is on the phone conversation and not on the road. When over one third of your brain’s functioning that should be on your driving moves over to cell phone talking, you can become a cell phone “zombie.”

There are simple measures drivers can take to minimize distractions in the vehicle:

  • Turn your phone off or put it out of reach before starting the car.
  • Alert callers that you are unable to take calls when driving by changing your voicemail message.
  • Make it a point not to call or text anyone who may be driving, such as during the commute to and from work or school, especially parents calling teen drivers.
  • If you do need to make an important call or respond to a text message, pull over to a safe place to do so.
  • If going cold turkey is too much of a stretch and you just can’t turn your phone off, consider using one of the available mobile phone apps that holds calls and incoming texts.

“The vast majority of calls and texts you send or receive everyday are never important enough to put yourself or others in harms way.” said Murphy. “Were any really worth a $159 ticket—or worse, a crash, injury or death? It’s just not worth it.”

Peggy March 31, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Excellent article. I was following a car the other day down Lewis road onto Salinas road. He was driving about 8 MPH and swerving all over the road. When I got to the light at San Juan...yup....he was texting. Was behind a woman texting on 17 the other day too. I have made some interesting observations lately though. Law enforcement officers both not using hands free devices while talking on cell phones and texting while driving. Just sayin'.....
Butch Cole March 31, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Between the drivers making a speedway out of Airport Blvd (heading toward the freeway) and those chatting on their cell phones or both...it can be very entertaining...rarely a cop in sight.
Butch Cole March 31, 2012 at 08:46 PM
I've seen the same thing, Peggy....I know its probably essential that the police use their cell's one might think that they'd use 'hands free'.
David H. Perez April 01, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Actually, Peggy, the law does not prohibit police from talking on cell phones while driving. But still, the police are as human as the rest of us and talking on a cell phone is distracting.
Russ April 04, 2012 at 12:27 AM
This hand-held cell phone legal obsession thing is driving me crazy. I don’t get it. The whole purpose of the cell phone law is to make the roads safer by eliminating the distractions caused by cell phone use while driving, but that’s not what the law does. Of the three main elements involved in a phone call (dialing, holding the phone in your hand, and having a conversation), the legislature allows you to legally do the two things that are the most distracting (dialing and having a conversation), but the benign function of holding the phone in your hand is what they chose to make illegal? How does that make any sense? If you’re going to have a distracted driving law specifically targeting cell phone usage, then regulate the distraction! This article points out that one third of your brain’s functioning is used for phone conversations, but it also states that studies show that there is no difference in the risks between hands-free and hand-held cell phone conversations. So the purpose of the Distracted Driving cell phone law is what? The thing that uses over one third of your brain’s functioning is legal, but the thing that poses no difference in risks is illegal? Huh? And now there’s an annual statewide “zero tolerance” enforcement effort to catch people using a hand-held phone that is no more or less distracting than a hands-free phone? What a waste of time and tax payer dollars.

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