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For Californians, it's have cellphone law, will break it

May 16, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • A woman uses her hand-held cellphone while driving in Los Angeles.
A woman uses her hand-held cellphone while driving in Los Angeles. ( Los Angeles Times )

This just in:  You can’t outlaw human nature.

And no, I don’t mean Prohibition and demon rum (although that is still Exhibit A).

I mean the California law that bans texting or using a hand-held phone while driving.

As The Times reported Wednesday:

Californians are increasingly talking or sending text messages on their cellphone while driving, a new study has found.

A statewide survey showed 10.8% of drivers use mobile devices at any given daylight time, an increase from 7.3% a year ago, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Have phone, will talk, I guess.

And who are the biggest scofflaws?  Yep, you guessed it:

The largest increase was among 16- to 25-year-olds, whose use doubled from 9% to 18%.

Given that most young people appear to have phones surgically attached to their hands/hips/ears, I can’t say I’m surprised.  Heck, even the person in charge of traffic safety sounds resigned:

“These results are disturbing, but not entirely unforeseen,” OTS Director Christopher J. Murphy said in a news release. “Now that smartphones are becoming the majority, people are using them more often and in many more ways. This might be helpful in a lot of places, but definitely not behind the wheel.”

So the phones are getting smarter but many of the people using them are as dumb as ever.

Not that law enforcement is giving up:

In April, law enforcement officials across the state made a concentrated effort to crack down on distracted driving and issued more than 57,000 tickets to motorists talking or texting on a cellphone. That is about 5,000 more than the number of tickets given out during a similar operation last year.

Motorists ticketed for a first infraction are generally fined a minimum of $159.

But let’s do the math:  A new phone costs, say,  $300.  It’s $75 or more a month to use it.  Think the slim chance of getting a $159 ticket is gonna stop someone?

Especially when he just has to text his pals that traffic getting to Hollywood is terrible, and he’s running late, and save him a seat next to the hot girl?

No, this is a problem that laws aren’t going to stop.  Yes, you could increase the size of fines. But there are simply too few officers for too many drivers.

This is a technology problem.  It needs a technology solution. 

At a minimum, we need devices that make it easier to plug phones into our cars, for hands-free talking.

Yes, I know, talking and driving is still distracted driving.

But folks scoffed at air bags once too. 

If you can’t stop people from being people, then you have to protect people from being people.

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