Do you do the 'cop drop?'

Drivers still talking despite cell phone laws
By: Josh Fernandez The Press Tribune
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The California law that prohibits the use of handheld cell phones by all motorists went into effect two years ago, but statistics indicate that far too many motorists still aren’t obeying. According to a press release issued by the California Highway Patrol, there have been more than 1,200 cell phone-related collisions throughout the state this year. Those collisions resulted in 16 fatalities and more than 850 injuries – a huge number, according to Erin Komatsubara, spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol. “That’s still quite a bit,” she said. “Even though it’s been two years now.” The law, written by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, went into effect in late June, 2008. It prohibits the use of handheld cell phones by all motorists. In addition, it forbids anyone under the age of 18 from using any type of cell phone – handheld or hands-free – while driving. Since the law’s inception, CHP officers have issued more than 244,000 citations statewide to motorists. In his jurisdiction, 1,115 citations were issued in 2009, according to David Martinez, spokesman for the Auburn-area CHP. This year, from January through June, 527 tickets have been issued. In Roseville, officers issue 400 to 500 cell phone related tickets every month, according to the Roseville Police spokeswoman Dee Dee Gunther. “People aren’t getting the message,” she said. “Officers could write as many as they wanted to, probably. There were 519 (tickets issued) last month and 502 the month before.” Cell phone violations carry a minimum base fine of $20 for the first offense and $50 for the second. But when court costs and other fees are added to the fines, the total cost of the violation can exceed $100 for the first offense, Komatsubara said. But if you’re caught talking on a handheld cell phone in Roseville, the first offense will cost you $149 in total, Gunther said. “Legislature keeps adding more penalty assessments,” Gunther said, adding that answering a cell phone is such an ingrained habit that people may be finding it hard to stop cold turkey. A 19-year-old Roseville Galleria shopper said that when she sees an officer, she throws her phone into the passenger’s seat of her car. “I’ve totally done that where I’m talking on the phone and I see a cop … and I throw the phone before he sees me,” said the woman who did not want to give her name. “I actually just got a new phone because of that. I shouldn’t do it, though.” That technique, known sometimes as “the cop drop,” can still earn you a ticket, according to Komatsubara. While some drivers still take the risk of driving while talking on their phone, Randy Murray, 24, of Roseville, says he’s a fairly strict observer of the law. “I’ve definitely made an emergency call,” he said. “But other than that, no, I generally don’t call people.” As for the cop drop, Murray said he’s done it, but only before the hands-free cell phone law went into effect. “When it wasn’t a law it was still a weird thing,” he said. “Everybody was talking on the phone but you kind of knew you shouldn’t.” People know they shouldn’t talk on cell phones while driving because it’s clearly dangerous, CHP’s Komatsubara said. “Folks need to abide by this law a lot better,” she said. “Cell phones are the leading factor in driver crashes.” Josh Fernandez can be reached at