Drivers who get ticketed for texting or using a non-hands-free cell phone behind the wheel will pay seven times what they did in December for a first-time offense.
As part of California’s first Distracted Driving Awareness Month, in April law enforcement will be holding zero tolerance days for cell phone use and texting. A ticket for violating either the hands free or no texting law will cost a minimum of $159, and subsequent tickets will cost $279.
In December, a first-time offense for breaking the hands-free law was $20; subsequent fines were $50.
“We take the issue of distracted driving very seriously,” said Captain Dave Fontneau, Commander of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department's Lake Elsinore Station. “Cell phone use and texting while driving is such a serious concern that we are putting officers on the road to enforce zero tolerance. Is that text message or cell phone call really worth $159? Additionally I’d like you to consider the human costs. People suffer preventable injuries every day at the hands of distracted drivers.”
Starting April 4 and throughout the month, the Lake Elsinore Sheriff’s Station will join over 225 local agencies plus 103 CHP area commands in conducting zero tolerance enforcements on cell phone use and texting.
Office of Traffic Safety Director Christopher J. Murphy said in a press statement that it may be difficult for some to resist the urge to check an incoming text or answer a cell phone call, so police are using harsher penalties as a way to change drivers’ habits.
“Convincing California drivers to wear seat belts 20 years ago wasn’t easy either, but in 2010 more than 96 percent buckled up and thousands of lives were saved,” he said.
Studies show that texting while driving can delay a driver’s reaction time just as severely as having a blood alcohol content of a legally drunk driver. A July 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study showed that motorists who use hand-held devices are nearly three times as likely to cause a crash.
Younger, inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes, and no driver under 18 is allowed to use a mobile phone -- even with a hands-free device.
During 2009, the CHP reports that in Lake Elsinore and Wildomar, there were 12 collisions involving distracted teen drivers, ages 15-19. Of those collisions, five of the drivers were injured.
Countywide, there were 186 collisions involving distracted teen drivers -- 77 of those drivers were injured, according to the CHP’s 2009 numbers.
Statewide, the 2009 numbers were more dire: Of the reported 3,858 collisions involving distracted teen drivers, 10 teens were killed and another 1,583 injured.
In a March 3 CHP report, during a four-year period (2005–2008) California drivers between the ages of 15 to 19 were involved in more than 20,000 collisions where inattention was a factor. “Among those crashes, 41 percent resulted in injury or death,” the March 3 report stated.
Murphy said he hopes the tougher penalties will help decrease the number of distraction-related accidents and that drivers will “use some common sense when they’re behind the wheel and focus on driving.”
“Think about the vast majority of calls and texts you send or receive everyday,” Murphy said. “Were any really worth a $159 ticket – or worse, a crash, injury or death? It’s just not worth it.”