Drivers violate hands-free cell phone law

But the California Highway Patrol says statistics on citations suggest that many drivers are returning to their old habit of holding the cell phone up to their ear.

When the law went into effect a year ago Wednesday, many residents bought wireless headsets for their cell phones and made sure all their in-car calls were conducted hands-free.

In July 2008, when the law went into effect, the CHP recorded 7,779 citations for hands-free violations.

The number remained constant through the end of the year.

But with 2009, the number of citations climbed. By May 2009, the CHP had issued 12,789 citations, a 64 percent increase over July 2008.

In all, the CHP has given out 110,323 hands-free tickets.

A CHP spokeswoman said the CHP hasn't created a special task force since the hands-free law went into effect. The tickets, she said, are just the result of officers noticing violations.

The ticket carries a $20 fine, but with court fees and assessment it could mean $130 or more for a violation.

The author of the hands-free law, State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) said the law is affecting collisions and fatalities.

According to the CHP, there were 3,112 fatalities last year.

Before the hands-free law, there were 3,557 fatalities the previous year.

Law enforcement experts say it will take time to build the habit. The seat-belt law now has 90 percent compliance.

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