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April is Distracted Driving Month: Are You Paying Attention?

More than 200 law enforcement agencies across the state have announced high visibility enforcement operations during the month.

We’ve all seen them: drivers just a bit too slow for the lane they’re in, or looking into their laps as you pass or at a stop light, or blatantly chattering away in a truck’s cab with a heavy load swaying behind.

Perhaps you’ve done it yourself.

These are “distracted drivers,” and what they’re doing is illegal, to say nothing of dangerous, behind-the-wheel cell phone use and texting.

But did you know, to riff on a popular meme, there’s a month for that?

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), California Highway Patrol (CHP), and more than 200 law enforcement agencies across the state have announced high visibility enforcement operations during the month.

Are You a Zombie Driver?

The overall goal of the increased enforcement is to convince drivers of the dangers of distracted driving and reduce the number of people impacted by this risky behavior. “It’s Not Worth It!” is the theme of the campaign, emphasizing that a phone call or text isn’t worth a hefty fine or a collision – or someone’s life.

“In a few short years, distracted driving has grown to be a nationwide traffic safety concern, and we all need to put forth the effort necessary to put an end to it,” said OTS Director Christopher J. Murphy. “Law enforcement agencies will be stepping up their efforts to help remind drivers to stay alert when behind the wheel and to not endanger their lives or the lives of others with distractions from mobile devices.”

Any activity that diverts the driver’s attention away from the primary task of driving is distracting, but the recent dramatic rise in cell phone talking and texting has greatly increased the number of collisions.

“No text message or phone call is worth the risk of serious injury—or much worse,” said Brian Kelly, Acting Secretary of the Business, Transportation & Housing Agency. “Always keep your eyes on the road and hands off your phone while driving.”

In recent years, hundreds have been killed and thousands seriously injured in California as a result of collisions that involved at least one driver who was distracted. Nationally, an estimated 3,331 people died in 2011.

In 2012, the California Department of Motor Vehicles reported nearly 450,000 handheld cell phone and texting convictions, with more than 57,000 tickets issued in April alone. The CHP and statewide law enforcement agencies are committed to ensuring our streets are safe by ticketing anyone found driving while distracted. The fine for a first time texting or hand-held cell phone violation is $159, with subsequent tickets costing $279.

“Enforcement is just one part of this campaign,” said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. “The larger goal is educating motorists about the dangers of distracted driving and encouraging them to change their behavior behind the wheel. This effort is not about how many citations law enforcement officers can issue, but how many lives are ultimately saved because motorists made the right choice to focus their attention on the road, free of distraction.”