Garden Grove Police Motor Officer Katherine Anderson has seen just how distracted drivers can become on their cell phones.
“I have even looked at people’s pictures as they scroll through them – oblivious to the fact they have an officer sitting next to them – until I knock on their window,” she said.
As part of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April, the GGPD is increasing efforts to enforce the new cell phone law in California, which took effect Jan. 1 (Assembly Bill 1785 requires California drivers to keep cell phones out of their hands while driving), as well as other forms of distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,477 people were killed and about 391,000 were injured in accidents involving distracted drivers in 2015 – a 9 percent increase in fatalities compared to 2014.
GGPD is taking an expansive approach this month – and beyond – to preventing distracted driving.
“Not only do tickets work, but just the presence of motor and patrol officers helps,” said Anderson. “You would be surprised to see how many phones are thrown over shoulders and dropped onto floorboards of their vehicles trying to get rid of the ‘evidence’ as soon as they see us.”
It’s also about education and awareness. The agency has launched the Accident Reduction Team to coordinate extra enforcement efforts as well as traffic presentations. Beginning in April and continuing on thereafter, the team is also developing educational videos for social media and fliers, hosting booths at festivals and special events, and adding several special enforcement days specifically looking for and issuing traffic citations for cell phone violations.
“People are not just talking and texting, they are watching videos, looking at their GPS, checking emails, and are on social media,” said Anderson, who is one of the coordinators for the new team. “Not only are they missing traffic signals, causing traffic hazards, they are weaving into adjacent lanes and causing collisions. We often end up with witnesses saying that they saw the driver of the vehicle involved with a cell phone in hand just prior to the crash.”
Though the most common form of distracted driving GGPD officers see is cell phone usage, there are other dangers.
“Another form of distracted driving that people don’t think about is having dogs and other pets on the lap of the driver while the vehicle is in motion, putting on makeup, shaving, and I recently had a man who rolled his vehicle with his wife and toddler inside while attempting to eat a bowl of spaghetti,” she said.
With the help of a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the GGPD has been deploying extra traffic officers throughout April in locations with higher incidents of traffic collisions. Violators are being cited with fines set at $162 for first-time offenders.
As of April 25, 655 electronic citations had already been issued for the month – not including paper citations.
Anderson advises drivers to resist the temptation of grabbing their phones at red lights or at any other time during vehicle operation.
“The consequences of using your phone while driving are not worth it,” she said. “If the text coming through is that important, pull over and take care of business. If the temptation is too much, put your phone in the trunk or backseat. Be responsible, be smart and be safe.”
Coming soon: A closer look at the GGPD’s motor unit.