Crackdown on car cellphones

by Bill Lindelof, Sacramento Bee

Nearly 3,000 drivers were caught breaking cellphone rules during a crackdown in Sacramento County and dozens of other police jurisdictions throughout Northern California, authorities reported Wednesday.

"We are committed to saving lives on area roadways, and drivers should expect to continue to see officers enforcing cellphone driving laws time and time again," said state Office of Traffic Safety Director Chris Murphy.

California was one of two states to receive grants for high-visibility pilot programs to squelch motorists’ hand-held cellphone use and texting. In addition to California, Delaware was selected by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to mount a pilot project.

The California program, dubbed "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other," was conducted in eight counties with 3.8 million residents in an area that ranged from Modesto to Marysville and Vallejo to South Lake Tahoe. The crackdown occurred from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9.

The top five police agencies writing tickets were: California Highway Patrol, 404 tickets; Roseville, 292; Sacramento 231; Stockton, 195; and Modesto, 176.

Some of the offending motorists were obvious in their distracted driving: Vacaville police stopped a motorist whose vehicle was straddling two lanes. She was trying to order concert tickets from her cellphone while driving.

Drivers talking on a cellphone or texting receive a ticket costing a minimum of $159 for a first offense. A second offense costs a minimum of $279.

The crackdown was the first of at least three maximum enforcement periods in the pilot program. The state got $600,000 from the federal government to finance the effort.

The next maximum enforcement period will occur Feb. 25 through March 10.

The California effort is similar to smaller-scale pilot projects in Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y., in 2011. Last year’s programs in those cities resulted in texting dropping 72 percent in Hartford and 32 percent in Syracuse, according to a state traffic safety news release.