VISALIA – If you are looking to avoid some bad luck this Friday the 13th, you could start by putting down your phone while you’re driving. If not, you could get a ticket, or even die because of your distracted driving!
This Friday, April 13, has been designated the second of two statewide enforcement dates when the Visalia Police Department will step up distracted driving enforcement activities. Observing April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, officers will have a special emphasis this month on enforcing all cell phone and distracted driving laws. The goal is to increase voluntary compliance by drivers, but sometimes citations are necessary for motorists to better understand the importance of driving distraction.
The California Department of Transportation will put distracted driving messages on the changeable message signs on freeways during April in addition to awareness efforts by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) to discourage distracted driving.
Ten years after the “hands-free” law took effect, drivers are using their cell phones less often but distracted driving remains a serious safety challenge in California. State Senator Joe Simitian, who authored the state’s hands-free and no-texting laws, said that California’s distracted driving laws have been saving lives for a decade now.
“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,” Senator Simitian said. “That’s tremendously gratifying.”
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.
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 your smartphone’s apps while driving. Still, everyone has seen other drivers on a device driving in a dangerous manner next to them during a commute or a trip around town.
“Smart phones are part of everyone’s lives now. Texting, phone calls and posting on social media are nearly as addicting,” said Sgt. Mark Feller with the Visalia Police Department. “But doing these things can have deadly consequences while driving on our city’s streets. Changing these dangerous habits will help make our roadways safer for everyone.”
Since 2011, OTS has conducted an observational study of handheld cell phone use every year. OTS Director Rhonda Craft said this year’s study 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.
“The best way to put an end to distracted driving is to educate all Californians about the danger it poses,” Craft said. “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.”
Visalia PD offers the following Safety Tips to avoid distracted driving:
- 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 final destination. Visalia PD will be deploying extra traffic 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 starting at nearly $200 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.