Newport Beach Police Department
After Ten Years of Hands-Free Law, Challenges Still Remain
Just Drive: The Cell Phone Can Wait
Ten years after “hands-free” driving became law, drivers are using their cell phones less often… but distracted driving remains a serious safety challenge. April is recognized as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the first week in April is California Teen Safe Driving Week, making this an ideal time for safety advocates to focus their efforts on education and enforcement statewide.
The Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), the California Highway Patrol (CHP), the Newport Beach Police Department, and other local law enforcement agencies are joining with community partners throughout the state to make the roads safer by highlighting the dangers of distracted driving, especially as related to cell phones. The goal of Distracted Driving Awareness month is voluntary compliance by all drivers, but sometimes officer intervention – and citations – are necessary to communicate the importance of distraction-free driving
Traffic officers throughout the state have issued hundreds of thousands of citations over the past three years to drivers who were texting or making calls on a hand-held cell phone. Recent legislation made it illegal to use any smartphone apps while driving, further limiting drivers’ cell phone activity. Still, we all continue to see people driving dangerously while distracted by their phones.
Since 2011, OTS has conducted an annual observational study of hand-held cell phone use. “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.”
“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.”
In 2007 (the last full year before the hands-free law went into effect), more than 33,000 drivers in California were involved in distracted driving collisions. Preliminary 2017 data shows that that number decreased to fewer than 22,000 collisions last year.
“These numbers show a heartening and significant improvement,” said Chief Lewis of the Newport Beach Police Department, “but there’s still work to be done. Smartphones are a part of our lives now; texting, phone calls, social media posts… the cell phone activity is constant, but doing these things behind the wheel can have deadly consequences. Changing these dangerous habits will help make our roadways safer for everyone.”
The NBPD has the following safety tips for drivers:
- If you need to read a text message, or need to send one, pull over and park your car in a safe location. (If you are on a freeway, please exit; do not pull over to the side of the freeway.) Once you are safely off the road, it is safe to text.
- If you have a passenger, consider making them your “designated texter”. Allow them to access 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. Are you struggling to avoid the distraction? Consider putting your cell phone in the trunk or the back seat of your vehicle until you arrive at your final destination.
The Newport Beach Police Department is deploying extra officers with grant-funded resources throughout the month in city locations with higher numbers of 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 Officer of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.