During April, which is distracted driving awareness month, the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) teamed up with the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) to discourage distracted driving and to help the community understand what it means to be truly “hands-free” while driving.
The first week of the month was California Teen Safe Driving Week, where safety advocates worked toward education efforts across the state. April 5 and 13 were recognized as statewide enforcement dates, with increased distracted driving enforcement activities. Throughout the month of April, the California Department of Transportation placed temporary distracted driving messages on freeway signs.
“Driving while distracted, we all know is that your attention is diverted between what you’re doing on your phone and what you’re trying to do at the same time, which is drive,” Officer George Berrios said. “A lot of people feel that they have the ability to do it just fine, but we get a lot of calls from pedestrians and drivers about people driving recklessly, which a lot of the times has to do with them texting and driving.”
Preliminary data from 2017 found that nearly 22,000 drivers were involved in distracted driving collisions in California, according to the press release from SLOPD. Which is a decline from the more than 33,000 drivers involved in distracted driving collisions in 2007, the last full year before the hands-free law went into effect.
Still, almost 40 percent of drivers admitted to making a mistake while talking on a cell phone in 2016, according to OTS.
As of January 2017, it is illegal to have a phone in your hand while driving. If using a phone, it must be mounted in your car where you can access it easily without causing evasive maneuvers.
“The biggest thing I tell people, especially when it comes to distracted driving is number one is, if you have a stand, put [your phone] in a stand. Number two, use the buttons on your steering wheel if they connect to your cell phone,” Berrios said.
With a mounted phone, the law allows drivers only a single swipe or tap to “activate or deactivate a feature or function.” In addition to voice-activated features, the steering wheel may be used to change music, answer and end phone calls and activate voice dialing.
Driving under the influence is a form of distracted driving, with .08 percent being the minimum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level for a DUI. Being on your cell phone while driving, however, is roughly equivalent to .04 percent BAC, according to Berrios. On average, drivers will take their eyes off the road for five seconds while texting. At a speed of 55 mph, this is enough time to cover the length of a football field, Berrios said.
“Your ability to stop at a red light, measure the distance that a car is coming at you because you’re distracted to the point where you are not paying attention to the roadway … crashes have gone up,” he said.
SLOPD advises drivers to pull over to send texts, choose a passenger as the “designated texter” and put your cell phone in your trunk or back seat while driving.
“The best way to get educated about some of the new laws are just to be more aware about what is coming out every year,” Berrios said. “I know we are very good with social media and putting new laws out and information out to the public, a lot of Cal Poly is the same way.”