An estimated 9 percent of California drivers talk or text on their cell phone while driving — despite state laws that prohibit such actions, a recent study has shown.
In the first-ever survey of its kind, the California Office of Traffic Safety found that an estimated 9 percent of California drivers talk or text on their cell phone while driving. Officials also announced that, with approximately 55 percent of law enforcement agencies reporting in, at least 20,455 were cited for handheld cell phone use and texting during the first two weeks of a Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign.
“This study is highly significant for California,” said OTS Director Christopher J. Murphy. “It gives us a base to measure against in years to come as we combat this serious threat to safety on our roadways.”
The observational study had researchers fan out to more than 130 intersections in 17 counties to observe whether drivers had a phone to their ear, were wearing a Bluetooth or headset device, were manipulating a handheld device, or were talking while holding a phone in their hand but not to their ear. Of the 5,413 drivers observed across the state:
* 2.7 percent were talking into a handheld phone, either at their ear or in their hand.
* 4.7 percent were talking into a visible Bluetooth or headset on their right ear.
* 1.7 percent were texting or otherwise manipulating a mobile device.
Officials consider the results to be the low-end indications of those engaged in these dangerous behaviors, since it’s not always possible to tell in a short, limited view observation whether someone is using a phone. A similar nationwide survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2009 showed the same combined usage of 9 percent.
Referring to the enforcement totals, California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow said, “This shows how engrained the use of mobile devices have become. Even faced with laws, studies, and stories of tragedy, too many are not able to put down their cell phones. We have to convince people of the dangers before they become the next heartbreaking story.”
With fees and assessments, the total ticket for a first offense for talking or texting while driving in California is at least $159, and $279 for subsequent offenses.
More than 275 local police agencies and 103 CHP offices have been mounting special zero tolerance enforcements against hand-held cell phones and texting by drivers in the state since April 4.
Additional findings from the observational survey include:
* Central California had the highest rate of usage – 12 percent, followed by Southern California at 9.8 percent and Northern California at 6.9 percent
* Suburban usage leads the way toward danger with 10.3 percent overall usage, compared to 7.6 percent in rural and 8.7 percent in urban areas.
* 82.8 percent of all drivers observed as distracted by a hand held device were alone in their vehicle. The higher the number of passengers in the car, the less likely is the use of a hand-held device by the driver.
“We have to get a handle on this problem now, before it gets completely out of hand,” said Murphy. “It worked with seat belts, with California now over 96 percent usage. Parents and businesses can set the example.”