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.”