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New law restricts all uses of cell phones while driving
new cell phone law pic
As of Sunday, drivers will no longer be able to hold their cell phones to change the music, use a mapping app or for any reason. - photo by Photo Contributed

Come Sunday drivers in California will have to resist the temptation to pick up their cell phone for any reason, as a new state law goes into effect barring motorists from holding their phones in their hands for any reason.

The new law closes a loophole that has allowed drivers to hold their phone for a variety of reasons — from changing the music to putting in an address on a mapping service to making a video for a social media outlet.

Assembly Bill 1785, authored by Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) updates the rules of the road relating to the use of electronic devices while operating a vehicle, and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September. Before this law, California’s laws against cell phone usage while driving specifically only banned talking or texting, which left open a host of other activities that can be performed on smartphones.

“Technology has improved so rapidly, and our cell phones are more capable of much more than just calls and text messages. Smartphones have an abundance of available features that demand a driver’s attention, leading to very dangerous driving behavior. However, such activities are not clearly prohibited by law,” Quirk said.

“This bill targets the deadliest cause of distracted driving related crashes, the use of an electronic device while driving,” Quirk continued. “The accidents, injuries and deaths associated with this form of distracted driving are completely preventable. I am proud that Governor Brown has agreed that it is time that we update our archaic laws on the issue and do our part to make sure drivers are focused on the road. This bill will save lives.”

The law still allows drivers to use the hands-free or voice activated options of the phone, so long as it is mounted on the windshield or dashboard. With it mounted, drivers can activate or deactivate a feature or function of the phone with a single swipe or tap of the finger.

The prevalence of using mobile devices while driving has been steadily increasing, event with concerted efforts to stop the practice. In a study conducted by the California Office of Traffic Safety in April 2016, at least 12.8 percent of California drivers were observed using a mobile device during the day, up from 9.2 percent in 2015 and eclipsing the previous high of 10.8 percent in 2013. Due to the difficulty of observing mobile device use in a vehicle, these figures are considered minimums, with actual usage likely several points higher.

The OTS study also found that the observed usage rates appear to confirm previous studies, which show more drivers admit to using mobile devices “sometimes” or “regularly” and that fewer drivers believe that talking or texting on a cell phone is a major safety problem. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who say they have been hit or nearly hit by a driver using a cell phone remains steady at nearly 60 percent.

Other significant findings in the observational survey:

• Though nearly all types of usage were up, typing and posting increased by more than one third.

• The highest observed electronic device use and the fastest increase in usage is in urban areas, at 9.4 percent.

• Electronic device use during rush hours increased by 71 percent in 2016.

• The percentage of 16-24 year-olds talking on hand-held cell phones increased from less than 1 percent every year since 2012 to more than 2 percent in 2016.

• Southern California drivers hold the phone to their ear at a rate double (3.8 percent) or more that of Central California drivers (1.9 percent) and Northern California drivers (1.4 percent).

 “These latest numbers are discouraging, but not totally unexpected,” said OTS Director Rhonda Craft. “The number of smartphones in the United States has gone from zero, 10 years ago, to over 200 million today. They have become so much a part of our lives that we can’t put them down, even when we know the danger.”

Data from the CHP’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System shows that in 2013, 22,306 people were involved in collisions in which distracted driving was a factor. The number of distracted driving victims in California increased slightly in 2014, to 22,652. From 2013 to 2015, the number of drivers killed or injured in collisions in which distracted driving was a factor increased every year, from 10,162 in 2013, to 10,548 in 2014, and to 11,090 in 2015.

In 2015 the CHP issued over 13,000 citations for violating the ban on writing, sending, or reading text-based communications while driving, and 78,000 citations for using a wireless telephone while driving. The California Department of Motor Vehicles reported over 426,000 handheld cell phone and texting convictions from jurisdictions statewide in 2013.

“Distraction occurs any time drivers take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel, and their minds off their primary task of driving safely,” CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said. “Any non-driving activity is a potential distraction and increases the risk of a collision.”