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April 10, 2018 > After 10-years of hand-free law, challenges remain

After 10-years of hand-free law, challenges remain

Submitted By Sgt. Sean Heneghan, Milpitas PD

Police agencies throughout the Bay Area and California have a message for motorists: ?Put your phone down. Just Drive!?

While law enforcement officials acknowledge that cell phone use by motorists is down in California 10 years after the state ?hands-free? law went into effect, they also say that distracted driving remains a serious safety challenge in California. To call the public?s attention to the problem, April has been designated as Distracted Driving Awareness Month statewide.

Police departments in Milpitas, Newark, Fremont and Union City are joining law enforcement agencies throughout the state during April and focusing on enforcing the ?hands-free? law along with awareness efforts by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). As part of the campaign, Friday, April 13 has been designated as a statewide enforcement day when law enforcement agencies will step up distracted driving enforcement activities. In addition, the California Department of Transportation is putting distracted driving messages on the changeable message signs on freeways.

"California?s distracted driving laws have been saving lives for a decade now,? said 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.?

Traffic officers have issued hundreds of thousands of citations over the past three years to those texting or calling on a hand-held cell phone. Recent legislation now makes it illegal to use smartphone apps while driving.

Since 2011, OTS has conducted an observational study of handheld cell phone use every year. ?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. ?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 also 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.

?It seems like smart phones are a normal part of people?s daily routines now, and it?s common for people to be texting, making phone calls, and checking social media throughout the day,? said Chief Armando Corpuz of the Milpitas Police Department. ?But, doing these things while behind the wheel can have deadly consequences. Eliminating distractions while driving can help make our roadways safer for everyone.?

The Milpitas Police Department has 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 destination.

As part of the campaign in Milpitas extra traffic officers will be on duty from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, April 13 in locations throughout the city that have shown high numbers in 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.

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