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Cell phone citations make motorists think twice

Drivers say law gives them pause before texting or talking
By: Megan Wood The Press Tribune
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Make a law and it’s bound to be broken. Especially when a law is against a habit that’s hard to break. Like talking. Last year California became one of several states to enact a ban against hand-held cell phone use requiring drivers to use a hands-free device and banning cell phone use completely for drivers under the age of 18. As of last January, California added text messaging to the ban. Statewide, the California Highway Patrol has issued 110,232 citations for cell phone use and nearly 400 for text messaging. “It’s harder to catch texters because we can’t just pull a person over for looking down repeatedly or appearing to be text messaging,” said Dave Martinez, public information officer for the Auburn office of the California Highway Patrol. “We typically have to be following alongside them for a while and watching to get solid evidence that the driver is texting.” The Auburn CHP, whose jurisdiction runs from Sacramento to Truckee, has issued more than 9,000 citations for cell phone use, 73 of them for text messaging. “I think it’s a good rule,” said Peter Eckes, 18, of Roseville. “But I don’t think it will stop everyone from using their cell phone. I think they’ll just be more discreet.” Although he is aware of the ban, Eckes said that didn’t stop him from texting while driving but it has made him think twice a few times. “I don’t text (while driving) as much anymore,” Eckes said. “Getting pulled over and a ticket is motivation to do it less, but I still do it.” Roseville Police Spokeswoman Dee Dee Gunther said officers have issued 3,965 cell phone citations since the ban took effect last year. Eleven of those were issued for motorists texting while driving. Brittany Rook, a Rocklin resident, was cited recently for using her cell phone while driving. The $20 ticket for the first offence nearly tripled after court fees and penalty assessments. Rook said since getting the ticket, she has stopped talking as much but said she continues to text and drive on a daily basis. “(The law) has just made me be more aware of police officers,” Rook said. “I still do it, just as much as before.” Although younger drivers have an overall greater risk of being in a collision, authorities say citations for cell phone use run the gamut when it comes to age groups. Gunther said officers have cited drivers in their 70s for using their cell phone while driving. When it comes to a collision, attributing an accident back to cell phone use and text messaging is difficult for law enforcement officials without eyewitness account or drivers admitting to their actions. Martinez said in a collision, cell phone use is usually a secondary cause with the primary cause of a crash being inattention to the road, following too closely or maintaining unsafe speeds. “In a major collision, like a fatality, we will do an investigation of cell phone records to use as evidence for the cause of the accident,” Martinez said. So far Auburn CHP has yet to report a fatality as the result of using a cell phone while driving. In 2005, Rocklin Police Officer Matt Redding was killed by a drunk driver who later testified that he was texting while driving. A recent study by the American Automobile Association found that many drivers on the road felt that text messaging while driving was just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. “It’s different. I wouldn’t say that either is not dangerous or one is more so than the other,” Martinez said. “Either way you’re making a poor decision behind the wheel of a 7,000-pound vehicle.”