The California Highway Patrol and law enforcement agencies throughout the state today are kicking off a month-long crackdown on drivers who text or talk on the phone while behind the wheel.
All through April, which is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the CHP is putting more officers on state roadways, and local police will be scouring city streets for drivers using hand-held cellphones, CHP spokesman Officer Elon Steers said today.
“In an effort to gain the public’s attention, we are making an extra effort to enforce those violations this month,” Steers said.
During a similar effort in April 2012, more than 57,000 tickets were issued to motorists around the state for texting or talking on the phone, he said.
The average fine for a first offense starts at about $160, he said, though the fine can be as high as $300 depending on the jurisdiction.
“It totally depends on the county and different court fees,” Steers said.
Distracted driving contributes to thousands of accidents a year and can slow a driver’s reaction time as much as driving drunk, Steers said.
“Recent statistics show that an overwhelming majority of accidents are in some way due to distracted driving,” he said.
Although using a cellphone is the most common form of distracted driving and the only one that merits a ticket under state law, drivers who eat, change clothes, or put on makeup are just as likely to break other traffic laws, such as by speeding, following other cars too closely and drifting out of lanes, Steers said.
Steers said teenage drivers are involved in a higher proportion of distraction-related crashes, but more experienced adult drivers are just as likely to pick up the phone or engage in other forms of distracted driving.
“It’s across the board. No one is immune to those distractions,” he said.
The CHP and more than 255 local police departments are participating in this month’s “Its Not Worth It” campaign, and will have “zero tolerance” for people caught using phones while driving, according to the CHP.
Drivers are reminded to turn off their phones or put them out of reach, and everyone should make an effort to not call or text anyone who might be behind the wheel.
The CHP’s extra enforcement this month is made possible by a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Chris Cooney, Bay City News