After dropping steadily for several years, researchers fear that cellphone use is on the rise again in Bakersfield and the rest of Kern County.
The Office of Traffic Safety surveyed 130 sites from February to April and determined that almost 10 percent of motorists used their cellphones while driving. That’s about 50 percent higher than last year’s figure of just under 7 percent, although it’s lower than the peak percentage of 10.8 seen in 2012, the first full year after the cellphone ban took effect. While calling the increase “shocking,” OTS Director Ronda Craft opined that many motorists believe they can multitask behind the wheel in the same way they can multitask behind a desk.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that 80 percent of vehicle crashes involve some level of driver inattention.
Ms. Craft admitted that about a third of the cellphone users used a speakerphone, were browsing the web or using an app, all of which are legal in California. Nevertheless, it appears that the initial deterrent effect of the cellphone ban has worn off, so expect officers to start issuing more cellphone tickets. The crackdown has already begun in some places; officers from about 250 statewide jurisdictions wrote 46,000 cellphone tickets in April, which is nearly double the average monthly total.
There are three primary cellphone bans in the Vehicle Code. VC 23123 makes it illegal to talk on a cellphone while driving unless the person is using a hands-free speakerphone. Some exceptions apply, like calls placed for emergency purposes. The other universal ban – VC 23123.5 – prohibits texting, emailing, and any other viewing and sending of text-based communications. For drivers under 18, VC 23124 prohibits all calls, even if they are made with a hands-free device.
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