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Distracted drivers, he's got just the ticket for you

Los Angeles Police Officer Kamaron Sardar's mission is to get the message across to distracted drivers that there are no good excuses for breaking this law.

May 03, 2010|Steve Lopez

If you happen to be one of the countless numbskulls out there who text while driving and talk on cellphones without hands-free devices, too distracted to know red from green or fast from slow, I've got news for you, Cookie.

LAPD traffic officer Kamaron Sardar is going to get you.

He's observant. He's motivated. He's good.

And I am going to cheer him on.

I was not exactly deputized, but on the theory that four eyes are better than two, I went out last week with Sardar to catch annoyingly distracted drivers, and you know who you are.

Did you not get the memo, nearly TWO YEARS AGO, that it's illegal to talk on a phone without a hands-free device? And what makes you think you're so important that you have to text while driving, putting everyone around you at risk?

Ys. I M Tlkng 2U!

"I'd say it's increasing," said Sardar, who turns out to be not just a cop of Kurdish ancestry but a Renaissance man and philosopher, as well.

I asked why he thinks people are breaking the law more now, and that's when I discovered Sardar's philosophical bent. Our sadly misguided society is addicted to dehumanizing notions of connectedness, he explained.

"People don't like down time," continued Sardar, who, by the way, is a paleontology buff and leads tours at the Natural History Museum. "They don't see the value of being alone with themselves."

I love this guy. Oh, and did I mention that he's a sometime vegan, whose father is an artist and whose stepmother is a Buddhist?

Everyone is text-happy, Sardar said, but if you're not a motorcycle cop who can split traffic and come right up on the culprit, it's hard to nail somebody who's thumbing away with their hands down low. Cellphone gabbers are much easier to spot, he said. And a lot of them drive almost exactly like drunk drivers, weaving, altering speeds and changing lanes without looking.

On Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, we saw a few suspects headed east — hands against their heads — while we were headed west, but it was too hard to turn around in time to do anything about it. Sardar said the black-and-white itself, with lights on top, makes it tough to sneak up on anyone.

So he parked on a side street along Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz, next to Mustard Seed restaurant, and we watched the cars go by.

Don't worry, Sardar told me. This is L.A., and we would not fail.

Five minutes into it, boom!

Eat your heart out, Starsky and Hutch.

Red and blue lights flashing, Sardar ran down a guy in a black truck who had his phone attached to his ear, yakking away.

"He's STILL on the phone," Sardar said as he got out of the car with me right behind him.

The suspect, medium build, 40ish, said his name was David.

"I didn't know why he was pulling me over," he said when I asked why he kept talking on the phone.

David insisted he can drive safely while talking and that he is too technologically challenged to bother with a hands-free device. The really dangerous drivers, he said, are the ones texting.

Tell it to the judge, Davey.

Fact: Distracted driving causes an estimated 6,000 fatalities each year in the U.S., and some of the more common distractions include texting, phoning or fiddling with a GPS.

Fact: An estimated 500,000 people are injured each year by distracted drivers.

Fact: A first-offense citation like the one Sardar wrote Dave costs way too little to be a deterrent. The ticket, court costs and penalties total only about $76.

Fact: I'd raise it to $500.

While Sardar was writing the ticket, a woman sped by in a black Volvo, holding a phone to her head. Sardar looked at me and we shook our heads. They're everywhere, an epidemic of self-indulgence.

We drove up Hillhurst, then back down toward our secret side-street. Sardar, with his eagle eye, spotted another one going north on Hillhurst, and we were all over him.

Nick, the driver of a silver Ford truck, claimed he had his phone on speaker.

Did he think we were both blind? My partner and I saw that phone glued to Nick's ear, and he admitted, under questioning by me, that he's had two prior citations for talking while driving.

"I'm just goin' through a hard time," said Nick, who claimed he was on the phone with his attorney trying to work out visitation rights to see his two kids.

"That sounds really important," said Sardar. "So why not pull over to have that conversation?"

In roughly one hour, we had written — actually, Sardar did all the paperwork — four citations. It was fish in a barrel, and I'd like to think we may have prevented any number of collisions out there on our mission to enforce and educate.

Maria, a 29-year-old woman in a black Mercedes, claimed she was being called by her doctor's office because she was late for an appointment.

Doctor's office? You're going to end up in a hospital, Maria, if you don't pay attention to your driving.

The most distraught guy we nabbed was Arthur, one of those typically oblivious drivers who was practically stopped in the middle of Hillhurst, phone to his ear.

Arthur said he was a messenger from Glendale and he was getting $7 to deliver a package to an address he couldn't find. That's why he was on the phone. He almost had a stroke when I told him the ticket would cost him 10 delivery fees.

Arthur had a passenger who didn't speak English.

"He's a magician," Arthur told me, and his friend demonstrated by throwing his voice.

"Good," I said. "Let's see if he can make your ticket disappear."

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