Texting While Driving: California Cracks Down On OMG, 2L8?

April 6, 2011

California drivers with cell phones and texting devices in hand, beware.

The Golden State has designated April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and has pledged zero-tolerance enforcement on distracted driving throughout the month.

That means--in theory, at least--drivers using hand-held cell phones or texting while driving will be targeted by law enforcement and pulled over. Laws against these activities have been on the state's books for a while, but enforcement has been notably lax.

It’s more than just words. In the state, 225 local police agencies and 103 California Highway Patrol (CHP) commands will be writing tickets to scofflaws breaking state law. The CHP is already writing more than 10,000 tickets per month, according to official numbers.

The California effort is the state's first time observing Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which was started by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2010 in response to growing concern around the dangers of distracted driving.

A welcome crackdown?

This crackdown may or may not be very good news. It all depends, perhaps, on how you drive--or from the state's point of view, how many tickets get written during the month-long effort, and how much lawbreakers will have to cough up in total ticket costs.

While the base ticket costs $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses, with penalty assessments, the total ticket cost winds up being $159 for a first offense and at least $279 for subsequent offenses.

Statistics show that drivers using cell phones or texting while driving are four times more likely to be involved in a serious traffic collision that results in injuries. Younger and less experienced drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. Studies also show that texting while driving can slow the driver’s reaction time as severely as having the blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 – that of a drunk driver.

Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia ban handheld cell phone use while driving and 30 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving.

Curb your calls (and texts)

If you're concerned about getting hit with severe penalties because you haven't mended your driving ways, try these suggestions to curb your distracted-driving habits:

  • Pledge not to engage in this distracted driving behavior--and share your pledge with family and friends and enlist their agreement to curtail such activity behind the wheel.
  • Turn off your phone. If you don’t hear the ringtone or ping of an incoming message, you won’t be tempted to reach for the device to answer or reply.
  • Worried that others can’t reach you? If you’ve already alerted family and friends that you won’t be answering calls or returning messages while driving, consider getting one of many available apps such as OTTER or IZIP that will hold your messages for you. In the third quarter 2011, Sprint will offer its Drive First safe-driving solution. T-Mobile already offers its DriveSmart and DriveSmart Plus apps.
  • Also change your voicemail message to something like, “I’m unable to take your call at the moment, or I may be driving…”
  • If you absolutely have to make a call or return an important text, pull off the road to a safe place and then make your call or text.

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[Mercury News, Distraction.gov, OTTER, IZIP, Sprint, T-Mobile]

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