Authorities crack down on texting, cell use while driving

COAST CITIES — A creative hands-free device saved at least one driver from being among the hundreds who received citations during law enforcement’s countywide detail Feb. 13 to Feb. 18 to curb drivers from illegal texting and cell phone use without a hands-free device.The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol, or CHP, worked together in the enforcement campaign and issued 467 tickets during the rain-soaked week to adult drivers for violations of texting or for using a nonhands-free electronic device while driving, according to the sheriff’s department.

“You can’t use an electronic device that requires you to hold it,” said CHP Officer Brian Pennings, of the El Cajon station.

He said if drivers are using the speakers on their phones to talk, then the phone must be on a person’s lap or attached to a visor.

Creativity isn’t illegal, either.

“I had a guy that had a thick rubberband around his head that was holding his phone,” Pennings said. “By the letter of the law that meets the hands-free.”

Hands-free devices, such as a Bluetooth, which attaches to the ear, are legal, but Pennings said the hands-free law doesn’t only apply to cell phones.

Operating a portable music player or an electronic navigation system while driving are also citable offenses, he said.

The law aims to reduce accidents caused by drivers who are distracted by using electronic devices.

The California Office of Traffic Safety reports that drivers using hand-held devices have a four times greater risk of crashing that results in a serious injury to themselves.

Drivers younger than age 20 have the highest number of distraction-related fatal crashes, and texting while driving has been shown in studies to delay a driver’s reaction to that of a legally drunk driver, according to The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

The tickets are costly, too.

Violating either the texting or hands-free or law is $159 for a first offense and $279 or more for each violation after the first.

Pennings said that the name of the distracted driving campaign was misinterpreted by some people who thought it was OK to to text while stopped at a traffic light.

It is not allowed, he said.

Lt. David Gilmore of the sheriff’s department said it was the first detail of its type for San Diego County and the CHP, and that it was also a statewide event to address the issue of distracted drivers.

Juveniles aren’t allowed to text while driving or even use a hands-free device to talk on a cell phone, and the six-day campaign resulted in three driver’s younger than 18 receiving citations in San Diego County for the zero tolerance law, according to Gilmore.

Three arrests were also made for individuals who were driving with a suspended license.

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