What Distracted Driving Awareness Month Meant in Practice

This photo, taken on June 2 by the author, is said by the author to depict a driver who is texting while driving down Ocean Boulevard.

9:45am | As you might have heard (here, for example), April was Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a statewide campaign by over 200 state agencies and 100 California Highway Patrol area commands to combat the bane of driving while using a handheld communication device (like that snazzy iPhone you waited in line to get even though when it came out it was more expensive and had more bugs than it ever would) through a combination of concentrated enforcement and focused public-relations work. 

The Long Beach Police Department took part. How? Sgt. Rico Fernandez, a department spokesman, says primarily by way of "two days of focused distracted driving enforcement operations," those days being April 6 and 27, during which the LBPD wrote 171 citations for using a cell phone while driving and 4 for texting while driving. 

For the entire month, the LBPD handed out 1,237 cell-phone citations and 59 for texting. 

How does that compare with an average month? Fernandez says that in February the LBPD handed out 864 cell-phone citations and 39 for texting; while in March the numbers were up to 1,073 and 72, respectively.

The Long Beach Post is awaiting comment from the LBPD on why the percentage jump between February and March was even greater than it was between March and April. We are also awaiting the May statistics. 

Traffic Section Sgt. Doug Bender explains that the "focused distracted driving enforcement operations" mostly entail motorcycle officers being special detailed for distracted drivers for those two days. The reason that an operation like this cannot be continual is two-fold: extra officers cost money, and when an officer is special detailed, his or her focus is on the pertinent offenses to the exclusion of all others.  

As Bender relates, "When we're funded by [for example] the Office of Traffic Safety — say, through a grant operation — that operation is paying for the officers." 

Bender says that because of the dangers posed by motorists using handheld communication devices while driving — "Distracted driving does cause collisions," he says, "there's no doubt about that" — the Office of Traffic Safety is considering shifting its focus from the "Click it or Ticket" program — so successful that the seatbelt non-compliance rate has gotten very low toward a distracted-driving program. 

While I have Sgt. Bender on the phone, I ask why the LBPD is not employing my so-obvious-it's-silly scheme to bust pertinent violators — namely, by sticking an undercover officer on a spot (say, on Ocean Boulevard, as I did one day during the Grand Prix) with a camera to clock offenders and a radio to hail a uniformed officer a half-mile or so away to stop the offending motorist and write the ticket. The only reason they don't do this, said the good sergeant, is not legal but logistical: too few officers to regularly employ a couple on such a specific detail. "It's staffing and funding," said Bender. "We could do that, but for practical purposes we haven't so far." 

This photo, taken on June 2 by the author, is said by the author to depict a driver who is texting while driving down Ocean Boulevard.

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