Above: Police suggest placing the phone outside of reach if it is too hard to resist staying off the phone while driving. Courtesy photo
OCEANSIDE — In April, police cited 256 drivers for violating California’s hands-free cell phone law to educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving.
Oceanside Police Department kept track of how many drivers were cited for national Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which was in April.
Under California’s most recent cell phone law, drivers are prohibited from having a phone in their hand for any reason. If drivers want to make a call while driving, they have to do so in a hands-free manner.
Phones must be mounted on the dashboard, windshield or center console, and can only be touched once to activate or deactivate a function.
The fine for first-time offenders is $162.
Sgt. Rick Davis of Oceanside Police Department’s Traffic Services Unit hears a lot of different excuses when he pulls drivers over for using their cell phones, like checking maps or taking an “emergency” phone call.
“We always get some excuse of some sort,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what it is … just to have it in your hand and looking at it is a violation of the code.”
Some people will also try to justify using their cell phones at stoplights because they are just sitting there.
“Those are the people still sitting there when the light turns green,” Davis said.
According to a 2018 observational survey by the California Office of Traffic Safety, about 4.5% of drivers are still using their cell phone, and more often to perform a function on the phone rather than talking.
Davis said the most ridiculous example he had of distracted driving was when he pulled a young woman over for using a cell phone to take a Snapchat video of herself while driving.
According to Davis, he was driving down the highway next to her and could see her holding the phone directly in front of her face — as she was driving over the speed limit.
The young woman apparently didn’t understand what the problem was.
“It was like she had no clue,” Davis said. “Taking a Snapchat video of yourself while driving is very dangerous.”
Cell phones are not the only objects taking drivers’ eyes off the road. Other distractions include grooming, reaching for fallen objects, fiddling with the radio and changing clothes, according to Oceanside police.
The National Safety Council claims, “cell phones, dashboard touchscreens, voice commands and other in-vehicle technologies pose a threat to our safety.”
At least nine Americans die and 100 are injured in distracted driving crashes every day, according to the Council.
In 2017, the same year the hands-free cell phone law went into effect in California, 66 people were killed and more than 6,500 were injured from distracted driving related crashes, according to Davis.
“It’s just not worth losing your life or causing a major accident that will change someone else’s life,” Davis said. “A text or call is not worth it.”
Oceanside Police Department wants drivers to pull over and park in a safe location if they really need to make an important call or send a text.
If it is hard to resist staying off the phone while driving, police suggest putting the phone in a place outside of reach, like the backseat or trunk of the car.
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son