Despite a statewide public education campaign about the dangers of distracted driving, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) issued 19,850 citations during the month of April to drivers who violated California’s handsfree cell phone laws. This total represents a 3.6 percent increase from April 2018. As part of the campaign, the CHP identified two statewide, zero-tolerance enforcement days, April 4 and 19. During that time, the CHP issued 2,459 citations to drivers for violating the handsfree law.
The CHP, the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), Impact Teen Drivers (ITD), local law enforcement, and other traffic safety partners worked together throughout Distracted Driving Awareness Month to educate drivers on the dangers of distracted driving. Only statistics from the CHP were available for release.
In addition to phones, other serious distractions include eating, grooming, applying makeup, reaching for fallen objects, using a vehicle’s touchscreen, knobs, dials or buttons, changing clothes, or any other task that takes your eyes or mind off the road.
“Citations are just one tool law enforcement has at its disposal for combating driver distraction,” said CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley. “Our ultimate goal is compliance with California’s handsfree law so that nothing diverts a driver’s attention or interferes with their ability to safely operate a vehicle.”
The OTS continued its “Go Safely, California” public awareness campaign for the month of April and early part of May with a focus on distracted driving. The education effort included TV and radio spots, social media posts, and outdoor billboards with messages encouraging Californians to put down the phone while driving.
“Drivers on their cell phone are a stubborn problem that will continue to require extensive education about the dangers and enforcement of laws against using cell phones behind the wheel,” OTS Director Rhonda Craft said. “It is a bad habit that may be hard for some to break, but is something that far too often leads to tragic consequences.”
ITD, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that educates teens on the dangers of reckless and distracted driving, kicked off Distracted Driving Awareness Month with a Teen Safe Driving Roundtable at California State University, Sacramento. ITD hosted the event with the CHP and the National Transportation Safety Board to discuss ways to improve teen driver safety where driver distraction is the primary cause of crashes.
“Seventy-five percent of teen fatal car crashes do not involve drugs or alcohol but everyday behaviors become lethal when a new inexperienced driver chooses to engage in them behind the wheel,” said ITD Executive Director Dr. Kelly Browning.
The OTS hosted an event April 12 at Sacramento’s Inderkum High School to educate students on the importance of driving free of distractions. Students even had the chance to experience first-hand how distractions impact your driving ability through simulator goggles.
The OTS is holding a statewide distracted driving video and billboard contest for high school students, with $15,000 in total cash prizes. All California high school students ages 14 to 20 are eligible to participate. The OTS is still accepting entries through May 20. For details on rules and how to enter, visit gosafelyca.org.
Distracted driving remains a top concern for California drivers. According to a 2018 public opinion survey conducted by University of California, Berkeley, nearly half of all drivers surveyed listed distracted driving because of texting or talking on a cell phone as their biggest safety concern on roads.
“Many drivers understand the risks they take looking at or using their phone, but do it anyway,” Director Craft said. “Drivers must use self-discipline and make it a habit to stay off the phone.”
California has had distracted driving laws since 2008. The CHP, the OTS, and ITD remind drivers that under the handsfree cell phone law, drivers are not allowed to hold a wireless telephone or electronic communications device while operating a vehicle. Drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use a cell phone for any reason, including handsfree.