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Citrus Heights police join statewide crackdown on distracted driving

Driving, stock image.

Sentinel staff report–
Additional officers will be on the streets handing out tickets and educating drivers during the month of April as part of a statewide campaign against distracted driving, the Citrus Heights Police Department said in a news release on Wednesday.

Calling distracted driving a “serious safety challenge,” the department said officers will be targeting locations in the city that have historically had higher numbers of traffic collisions. “Violators will be stopped and cited with fines set at $162 for first time offenders,” police said.

The department said its goal is to increase voluntary compliance with the law from drivers, but said “sometimes citations are necessary for motorists to better understand the importance of driving distraction.” In addition to texting and phone calls being illegal while driving, police noted that recent legislation has also added a ban on using smartphone’s apps while driving.

“Smart phones are part of everyone’s lives now. Texting, phone calls and posting on social media are nearly addicting,” said Citrus Heights Police Chief Ron Lawrence in Wednesday’s statement to media. “But doing these things can have deadly consequences while driving on our city’s streets, [and] changing these dangerous habits will help make our roadways safer for everyone.”

Authorities say California’s “hands free” law has been successful in reducing collisions, since going into effect in 2008.

Police said preliminary data from 2017 shows about one-third less distracted driving collisions occurred that year in California, compared to 2007. Nearly 22,000 drivers were involved in distracted driving collisions in California, compared to 33,000 in 2007.

California’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) also confirmed a drop in handheld cell phone use, through an observational study it conducts each year.

“This year’s study on the use of handheld cell phones and texting shows a decrease over past years,” said OTS Director Rhonda Craft in Wednesday’s news release. “However, more work needs to be done to target those who were observed to still be breaking the law.”

Former State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who authored the state’s hands-free and no-texting laws, was also quoted in the news release, crediting the laws with saving lives.

“Every day, somewhere in California, someone is sitting down to dinner with their family who wouldn’t have made it through the day without these laws on the books,” the former senator said. “That’s tremendously gratifying.”

The Citrus Heights Police Department recommends drivers follow four safety tips regarding cell phone use:

  • If you receive a text message or need to send one, pull over and park your car in a safe location, but never on a freeway.
  • Designate your passenger as your “designated texter.” Allow them access to your phone to respond to calls or messages.
  • Do not engage in social media scrolling or messaging while driving.
  • Struggling to not text and drive? Put the cell phone in the trunk or back seat of your vehicle until you arrive at your final destination.

Police said funding for the distracted driving campaign comes from a California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) grant, through the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. Last year, CHPD was awarded a $164,000 OTS grant to help fund a year-long program of traffic safety-related efforts, which often focus on DUI checkpoints and saturation patrols.

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