Although motorists are using their cell phones less often while driving a decade after “hands-free” became the law, distracted driving is still a serious safety challenge in the state of California.
During Distracted Driving Awareness Month, observed in April, the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) will join law enforcement throughout the state to deter distracted driving by stepping up enforcement and awareness efforts by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), the LBPD announced.
“Smart phones are part of everyone’s lives now. Texting, phone calls and posting on social media are nearly addicting,” said LBPD Lieutenant Kris Klein in a statement. “But doing these things can have deadly consequences while driving on our city’s streets. Changing these dangerous habits will help make our roadways safer for everyone.”
Officers will place special emphasis this month on enforcing all cell phone and distracted driving laws with the goal of increasing voluntary compliance, with some citations necessary for motorists to better understand the importance of driving without distractions, according to the release.
Officers have issued hundreds of thousands of citations over the past three years to those texting or calling on a hand-held cell phone, while OTS has conducted an observational study of handheld cell phone use every year since 2011.
“This year’s study on the use of handheld cell phones and texting shows a decrease over past years, however, more work needs to be done to target those who were observed to still be breaking the law,” said OTS Director Rhonda Craft in a statement. “The best way to put an end to distracted driving is to educate all Californians about the danger it poses. We will do this through enforcement and education efforts like our new advertising campaign ‘Just Drive’, reminding drivers to put down their phones and focus on the road.”
Preliminary 2017 data shows nearly 22,000 drivers were involved in distracted driving collisions in California, a decline from the more than 33,000 drivers involved in 2007, the last full year before the hands-free law went into effect, according to the release.
The LBPD released the following safety tips:
- If you receive a text message or need to send one, pull over and park your car in a safe location, but ‘never’ on a freeway. Once you are safely off the road, it is safe to text.
- Designate your passenger as your “designated texter.” Allow them access to your phone to respond to calls or messages.
- Do not engage in social media scrolling or messaging while driving.
- Cell phone use can be habit-forming. Struggling to not text and drive? Put the cell phone in the trunk or back seat of your vehicle until you arrive at your final destination.
It’s also of note that recent legislation makes it illegal to use smartphone apps while driving.
“California’s distracted driving laws have been saving lives for a decade now,” stated former State Senator Joe Simitian, who authored the state’s hands-free and no-texting laws. “Every day, somewhere in California, someone is sitting down to dinner with their family who wouldn’t have made it through the day without these laws on the books. That’s tremendously gratifying.”
For the rest of April, the LBPD is deploying extra traffic officers using grant-funded resources in city locations with higher numbers of traffic collisions. Violators will be stopped and cited with fines set at $162 for first-time offenders.
This campaign is funded by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.