10 years later, ’hands-free’ problems persist

Distracted driving accidents are down overall

Motorists are using their cellphones less often while on the road—10 years after “hands-free” became the law—but distracted driving still remains a safety challenge in California, officials say.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and safety advocates are promoting education and enforcement efforts statewide.

Local police departments and law agencies from north to south will step up their enforcement efforts and join the California Office of Traffic Safety in the push to discourage distracted driving.

Deputies have been tasked this month with enforcing all cellphone and distracted driving laws. The goal is to increase voluntary compliance by drivers, but officials say citations are sometimes necessary for motorists to better understand the implications of distracted driving.

On April 13, the California Department of Transportation will post distracted driving reminders on freeway message boards for the remainder of the month.

Recent legislation also makes it illegal to use smartphone apps while driving.

Although many drivers are still guilty of using their cellphones behind the wheel, things are changing for the better.

Since 2011, the Office of Traffic Safety has conducted annual observational studies of cellphone use by drivers behind the wheel.

“This year’s study on the use of handheld cellphones 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 Rhonda Craft, OTS director.

“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,” she said.

“California’s distracted driving laws have been saving lives for a decade now,” said former state Sen. Joe Simitian, who wrote California’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,” Simitian said.

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 distracted driving collisions in 2007, the last full year before the hands-free law went into effect.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office has issued the following safety tips:

When receiving a text message or if the need arises to send one, pull over and park the car in a safe location. Once the vehicle is safely off the road, it is safe to text.

Select a passenger as a “designated texter.” Allow them access to the phone to respond to calls or messages.

Do not engage in social media scrolling or messaging while driving.

Cellphone use can be habit-forming. Struggling to not text and drive? Put the cellphone in the trunk or back seat of the vehicle until arriving at the final destination.

Among other law enforcement agencies in the area, the Camarillo, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks police departments are using state grant monies in April to deploy extra traffic officers in locations that are known to have higher numbers of traffic collisions.

Violators will be stopped and cited with fines set at $162 for first-time offenders.

The distracted driving awareness campaign is funded by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Acorn staff report