As part of April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign, the Santa Barbara Police Department will be extending “zero tolerance” to motorists texting or operating hand-held cell phones on Monday and Tuesday. Drivers who break the law and place themselves and others in danger will be cited. The current minimum ticket is $159, with subsequent tickets costing at least $279.

Distracted driving is a serious traffic safety concern that puts everyone on the road at risk. As a result, law-enforcement agencies throughout California, including the SBPD, are increasingly cracking down on cell phone use and texting. April will see more than 225 local police agencies plus the 103 California Highway Patrol area commands conducting zero-tolerance enforcements.

Santa Barbara police traffic officers will be deployed above and beyond the normal traffic enforcement from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.

“We take the issue of distracted driving very seriously,” said Sgt. Mike McGrew, SBPD’s traffic supervisor. “Cell phone use and texting while driving is such a serious concern that we are putting officers on the road to enforce zero tolerance. Is that text message or cell phone call really worth $159?”

Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. Younger, inexperienced drivers under age 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. In addition, studies show that texting while driving can delay a driver’s reaction time just as severely as having a blood-alcohol content of a legally drunken driver.

Studies show there is no difference in the risks between hands-free and hand-held cell phone conversations, both of which can result in “inattention blindness” that occurs when the brain isn’t seeing what is clearly visible because a driver’s focus is on the phone conversation and not on the road.

— Sgt. Mike McGrew is the Santa Barbara Police Department’s traffic supervisor.