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CHP Cracking Down on Drivers Ignoring Hands-Free Law

More than one year after the cell-phone law takes effect, officers step up efforts to nab scofflaws

The California hands-free cell-phone law for drivers is more than a year old, but many drivers continue to drive with phones plastered to their ears.

California Highway Patrol officers and police officers in the San Francisco Bay Area held a “zero-tolerance day” on Aug. 12. Officers stepped up enforcement because of continued violations of the law, which requires motorists to use a hands-free device while behind the wheel.

The law also states that officers can pull over drivers who are talking on a phone without using a hands-free device, and that drivers younger than 18 can’t talk on phones at all.

“When people are speeding, they see a black and white and slow down. The same applies to people talking on their cell phones,” said officer Michael Duenas, a public information officer for the Coastal Division of the CHP. Drivers drop their phones into their laps once they see officers, he said.

While Santa Barbara County doesn’t have plans for a “zero-tolerance day” of its own, CHP officers are consistently enforcing the new hands-free law, he said.

The minimum fine for the offense is $30, but tickets usually cost about $120 after court fees and county fees, Duenas said.

Since the CHP is funded by the Department of Motor Vehicles, funds collected from offenders go to the city or county in which officers write the tickets.

According to the CHP, motorists using cell phones while driving caused 261 collisions, injuries to 115 people and five deaths from July to October in 2008.

Besides cell phones, many drivers are juggling GPS devices, iPods and other electronic devices.

“There are so many interruptions as we drive,” Duenas said. “People are on their phones constantly.”

Commuters can be frequent violators. “When you’re commuting, what do you do? You have free time so you’re talking on cell phones and not using a hands-free device,” Duenas said.

While police officers on duty are exempt from the hands-free laws, it’s CHP policy for officers to use hands-free devices, according to Duenas, who spoke with Noozhawk while he was driving.

During the one-day crackdown in the Bay Area, six times more tickets were issued to drivers talking on cell phones, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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