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Crackdown begins on drivers using cellphones

April 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Hands on the wheel, hands off those cellphones- California's first "Distracted Driving Awareness Month" kicked off Monday.

Police departments throughout the Southland and the California Highway Patrol joined a zero-tolerance crackdown on drivers texting or talking without hands-free technology.

Late Monday morning, Cpl. Matt Wharton with Santa Ana police gave Orange County resident Elena Echeverria a ticket for holding her cell phone and talking while driving.

"I just picked up because my phone rang," said Echeverria. "I mean I shouldn't, but I did. What can you do?"

Police are cracking down on distracted drivers, focusing on people talking and texting on a hand-held device while driving. They say it's not hard to spot.

"Too slow, too fast, they're weaving in their traffic lane," said Wharton. "They're hitting their brakes a lot."

Police say the number one cause of accidents is distracted driving.

"If you're using a cell phone while driving, you're four times more likely to get into an accident that's going to hurt you or somebody else on road," said Wharton.

An example of this is last year when Martin Kuehl was sentenced to four years in prison after hitting and killing a 32-year-old woman crossing the street in Newport Beach. Kuehl was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter for texting while driving.

Texting while driving also delays reaction time as much as driving drunk.

In one hour, two Santa Ana police officers handed out tickets to eight people.

"I'm a little confused," said Garden Grove resident Nathan Nguyen. "I thought it was legal to hold the phone and talking on the speaker."

"The hands-free is that your hands are free to drive," said a Santa Ana police officer.

It is an expensive reminder to pay attention to the road. The ticket for a first offence is nearly $160. And it is nearly $300 for each ticket after that.

"I have learned my lesson," said a Buena Park resident. "You have to stop to make phone calls."

And the police are not only looking closely because April is "Distracted Driving Awareness Month." The CHP hands out more than 10,000 cell phone tickets a month.