Study: Texting While Driving Doubles in Calif.
LOS ANGELES - Texting behind the wheel appears to be about double where it was before California's texting ban was implemented, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California's latest roadside survey of drivers.
Some 19 months after the texting ban went into effect, the level of texting and use of other devices such as smart phones has jumped to 2.7 percent of drivers at any time -- about double where it was before California's ban went into effect in January 2009. However, the level of hand-held cell phone use on the road at seven locations in Southern California has held constant at 3.7 percent.
These results indicate that California needs to do more to combat the growing traffic safety problem caused by texting and driving, according to the Auto Club.
"Stronger penalties, more driver awareness and education, and heightened enforcement are needed to significantly reduce one of the most dangerous activities a driver can do while on the road," said Auto Club Government Affairs Manager Steve Finnegan.
"The rise in texting indicates that the growth of texting overall has outpaced current enforcement efforts and overcome the current law, which should be strengthened to enhance safety," he added.
Current penalties on the books for texting while driving in the Golden State are inadequate to deter the behavior, said Finnegan. A motorist caught texting while driving is now assessed a $20 base fine for a first offense, and, unlike other moving violations, no "point" is placed on the motorist's driving record.
The state legislature recently defeated a bill, SB 1475, aimed at strengthening the texting-while-driving ban through increasing penalties, such as adding a point to driving records. Finnegan said the Auto Club, which supported the bill, believes the legislature should reconsider and enact the bill next year to deter drivers from texting.
"Studies have established that imposing points on driving records is a very effective deterrent to hazardous driving," said the Auto Club's senior researcher and study author Steven Bloch.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted driver and an additional 515,000 people were injured. A recent analysis by AAA and Seventeen magazine found most teen drivers today (84 percent) are aware of the risks of distracted driving, yet 86 percent admit doing it anyway.
AAA said it is combating distracted driving through education and by working with legislators to support strong state texting bans across the country. AAA, Seventeen and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation this month teamed to promote Seventeen's "Two-Second Turnoff Day," a Sept. 17 nationwide event encouraging all drivers to "take two seconds" to turn off their cell phone before getting behind the wheel.
Issuing more citations is another approach. However, it's difficult for law enforcement agencies to cite texting motorists since drivers typically hold devices in their lap.
Because of this challenge, the California Highway Patrol reports issuing an average of only about 200 citations per month since the texting ban went into effect. By comparison, over the past year, the CHP issued about 12,500 hand-held cell phone citations each month.