LANCASTER – The local California Highway Patrol office is increasing education and enforcement efforts for National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April and California Teen Safe Driving Week, April-7.
Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. Common driving distractions include texting, talking on a cellphone, eating or drinking, applying makeup, or anything else that could potentially divert a driver’s attention away from the road.
CHP officers, from April 1 to April 5, issued 81 citations for distracted driving in the Antelope Valley, according to Officer Gil Hernandez.
Local reporters were invited on a 45-minute ride-a-long Tuesday morning as Hernandez focused on educating the public on the dangers of distracted driving.
Minutes into the operation, a bold motorist drove past the Antelope Valley CHP Office with his mobile phone in hand at chest level. The driver was pulled over on Avenue I, just west of 17th Street West, for violating the hands-free cellphone law.
“Drivers believe that it’s okay for them to be on speaker phone, and that is not the case because that is still a violation,” Hernandez said. “The law says the phone should be hands-free. At no point in time should your hands be holding your cellphone.”
A driver can also be cited for distracted driving if caught handling a cellphone while stopped at a red light, “because the vehicle is still considered in motion,” Hernandez said.
Another motorist was pulled over Tuesday morning after he was spotted holding a cellphone up to his ear while driving south on 15th Street West, approaching Columbia Way (Avenue M).
“I think that people talking on a cellphone when they’re driving is a bad thing,” the motorist said. “I was on a dirt road going 2 miles an hour… I did not anticipate that being an issue and I set the phone down as I got ready to pull out onto the paved streets.”
Two other CHP units Tuesday morning conducted a local enforcement operation that focused on distracted teen drivers, Hernandez said. Eight citations were issued during that operation, six of them for distracted driving, according to Hernandez.
“Distracted driving [enforcement] for the Highway Patrol here in California is not only the month of April. We have a yearlong emphasis on distracted driving in an effort to save people’s lives and prevent crashes,” Hernandez said.
The California Office of Traffic Safety has adopted the message of “Silence the Distraction” in new public service announcements aimed at getting drivers to turn off cellphones while driving so they will not be tempted.
In 2013, more than 426,000 citations were issued in California for distracted driving, and 57,000 of those citations were issued during National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April, Hernandez said. Fifty people were killed and nearly 4,000 people were injured in 2013 in California as a result of driver distraction, according to the California Highway Patrol. In the average time it takes to send a text message – less than 5 seconds – a car traveling 60 mph will travel the length of a football field, Hernandez said.