Later this month, thousands of police officers will spread out across California in a massive crackdown on drivers texting or talking on handheld phones. Authorities will be plenty busy, since so many drivers don’t seem to care that these activities have been illegal for nearly five years.
New data from police statewide, according to the San Jose Mercury News, show they issued 425,041 tickets last year for talking on handheld phones — down about 35,000 from the previous year but still a 41 percent increase from 2009, the first full year of the cell-phone ban. Numbers were much smaller for texting citations: 21,059 in 2012. But that’s still a 41.5 percent increase from the previous year and a whopping 640 percent surge since 2009. And it’s texting that concerns police the most — it’s more dangerous because it takes drivers’ eyes off the road, and harder to ticket because it’s easier to hide. “Surprised, no. Dismayed, yes,” said Chris Cochran, a spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety. “After the intense media, public awareness and enforcement campaigns that have been mounted the past four years, we would hope to see a turnaround.”
A study released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 69 percent of U.S. drivers admit to talking on their cell phones and about one in three texts while driving. Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called cell-phone use and texting “a national epidemic.” In 2011, 3,331 people were killed and 400,000 injured in crashes caused by distracted driving. The National Transportation Safety Board has called for a ban on cell-phone use by drivers, including the use of hands-free phones. Most studies show hands-free conversations are just as distracting to drivers as handheld phones.