'Zombies' remind drivers of handheld-phone ban


Hefty fines don't seem to be a deterrent. Last year, nearly 500,000 drivers were ticketed using cellphones without hands-free devices on the road.

The California Highway Patrol and Office of Traffic Safety kicked off the "It's Not Worth It!" campaign Thursday to get California drivers to put down their cellphones with a live event featuring "zombie" actors. The second-annual National Distracted Driving Awareness Month kicks off April 1.

"People are in a hurry nowadays," said CHP Officer Arnold Hardy. "And with technology, people try and get multiple things done at one time, and it's very hard for them to put the phone down and drive, when actually they should."

To hit that point home, "zombies" are being used in public service announcements because you really are like a zombie when driving and talking or texting on a handheld.

A study by Carnegie Mellon University found the act of talking on a cellphone can reduce more than 35 percent of the brain activity needed for driving.

"The message is a third of your brain is not there because you're doing that on the phone while you're driving, you really become a zombie," said Chris Murphy, Calif. Office of Traffic Safety. "There's inattention blindness that you don't even know what you're not seeing."

So law enforcement will be aggressively combing highways and streets for drivers who refuse to go hands-free. Last year during a similar month-long campaign, they caught 52,000 people across the state. A total of 475,000 drivers were caught in 2011.

When you add in local and court fees, citations can run into hundreds of dollars.

The handheld ban has been law in California since 2008 and is in effect year-round.

Examining at state crash records two years before and two years after the hand-held ban went into effect, UC Berkeley found overall traffic deaths went down 22 percent; hand-held cellphone driver deaths went down 47 percent.

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