You might think that phone call you need to make on your way to work is very important, but is it worth a $159 ticket? Or, more importantly police say, the life of another motorist or passenger caught in the path of your distraction?
Morgan Hill police, the California Highway Patrol and law enforcement agencies throughout the state have designated April as “Distracted Driving Awareness Month.”
The month-long effort involves more than 200 law enforcement agencies statewide, according to CHP officer Jaime Rios.
It is a violation of the state vehicle code for any driver to operate a hand-held mobile phone – either by texting or talking on the device – while driving. Throughout the month, police promise to crack down on those accused of texting or operating hand-held cell phones while driving.
Officers in Morgan Hill will practice “zero tolerance” for drivers who choose to distract themselves while behind the wheel, according to Sgt. Troy Hoefling. Drivers who are charged with distracted driving will be cited.
The minimum ticket for a first-offense is $159, while subsequent tickets can cost at least $279, police said.
History shows that motorists who drive while using hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety. Drivers younger than 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes, and studies show that texting while driving can delay a driver’s reaction time as much as consuming enough alcohol to put one over the legal limit.
Furthermore, studies show there is no difference between the risks associated with hands-free versus hand-held cell phone use, both of which can result in “inattention blindness,” which occurs when the brain isn’t seeing what is clearly visible because the driver’s focus is on the conversation and not on the road in front of them, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety.
When such a considerable part of a driver’s brain that should be focused on driving is taken over by a phone conversation, that driver is similar to a “zombie,” police said.
“Turn off your phone and put it out of reach as you get into the car,” said Christopher J. Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety. “Think before you call or text someone. If there is a chance they may be driving, let it wait. It’s not worth it.”