In an age when the use of cell phones and mobile devices leads to an alarming amount of car accidents, April has been made “Distracted Driving Awareness Month” — meaning all month long, the Milpitas Police Department will be on the lookout for motorists in violation of our state’s hands-free cell phone law.
From now until the end of the month, extra Milpitas Police officers will be out on patrol, keeping their eyes peeled for people who are on their phones when they should be driving.
Milpitas Police Chief Armando Corpuz put it plainly: “Cell phones remain one of the top distractions for drivers and this bad habit can have life-altering consequences. A text or phone call will never be worth the loss of a life. That is why eliminating distracted driving is high on our priority list.”
Last year, approximately 1,200 drivers in Milpitas got cited for texting, making calls, or doing other illegal cell phone activities while behind the wheel. The law against driver cell phone use is intended to keep motorists safe: In 2017, 66 California drivers were killed while violating the law, and another 6,500 were injured.
Here are the rules: When you’re driving on California roads, you cannot have a phone in your hand(s) for any reason whatsoever. No looking at maps, no taking pictures — let alone texting or making calls. If you’re using your phone in the course of driving, it had better be hands-free usage, or the police can and will cite you.
What does “hands-free” mean, exactly? Per the California regulation, it means your phone must actually be mounted on your dashboard, center console, or windshield. You’re not 100% prohibited from touching the device, but when you do touch it, it has to be for single swipes and finger-taps, not sustained scrolling, browsing, typing, or other interfacing.
Broadly termed “distracted driving”, driving while making use of a cell phone or other mobile device isn’t as deadly as drunk driving, but it does result in notably more injuries. A relatively new phenomenon, distracted driving tends to result in softer legal penalties than drunk driving. Still, it’s ubiquitous; people see their fellow drivers on their phones every day. (I for one can’t get over the ones who hold their phones to their ears! Can’t you at least use speakerphone? What is this, 1989?)
If you break California’s distracted driving law (as this reporter did back in 2015, in the course of checking my Facebook messages, of all things), you’ll get hit with a $162 fine.
Cell phones are addictive. They’re manufactured to be that way. But that’s no excuse to not pull over safely prior to texting or calling. If the urge is just impossible to resist, the police recommend stashing “your phone in a place you can’t reach, like the backseat or trunk.”
Milpitas cops will be cracking down in April, but this is of course a year-wide problem. Spread the word. Be safe. Don’t be a distracted driver.