9 Percent of Drivers Talk or Text on Cell Phones, According to First Statewide Survey

April 20, 2011

SAN DIEGO, April 20, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — In the first-ever observational survey of cell phone use by drivers within a state, California drivers are yakking and texting at a combined rate of at least nine percent, representing hundreds of thousands of drivers at any given time. The statewide survey, conducted during March, was commissioned by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). Officials also announced that, with approximately 55 percent of law enforcement agencies reporting in, at least 20,455 drivers were cited for handheld cell phone use and texting during the first two weeks of the current Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign.

“This study is highly significant for California,” said OTS Director Christopher J. Murphy. “It gives us a base to measure against in years to come as we combat this serious threat to safety on our roadways.”

Researchers fanned out to over 130 intersections in 17 counties to observe whether drivers had a phone to their ear, were wearing a Bluetooth or headset device, were manipulating a handheld device, or were talking while holding a phone in their hand but not to their ear. Of the 5,413 drivers observed across the state:

  • 2.7 percent were talking into a handheld phone, either at their ear or in their hand.
  • 4.7 percent were talking into a visible Bluetooth or headset on their right ear.
  • 1.7 percent were texting or otherwise manipulating a mobile device.

Officials consider the results to be the low-end indications of those engaged in these dangerous behaviors, since it’s not always possible to tell in a short, limited view observation whether someone is using a phone, especially for texting. A similar nationwide survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2009 showed the same combined usage of 9 percent.

Referring to the enforcement totals, California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow said, “This shows how engrained the use of mobile devices has become. Even faced with laws, studies, and stories of tragedy, too many are not able to put down their cell phones. We have to convince people of the dangers before they become the next heartbreaking story.”

With fees and assessments, the total ticket for a first offense is at least $159, and $279 for subsequent offenses.

Over 275 local police agencies and 103 CHP offices have been mounting special zero tolerance enforcements against handheld cell phones and texting by drivers since April 4. These efforts will continue through the rest of the month. The special enforcement is part of a larger OTS and CHP campaign, “It’s Not Worth It!,” that includes a multiple media public awareness campaign on radio, TV, billboards, internet, social media, in gas stations, and messaging on Caltrans changeable message signs.

Additional findings from the observational survey include:

  • Central California had the highest rate of usage – 12 percent, followed by Southern California at 9.8 percent and Northern California at 6.9 percent
  • Suburban usage leads the way toward danger with 10.3 percent overall usage, compared to 7.6 percent in rural and 8.7 percent in urban areas.
  • 82.8 percent of all drivers observed as distracted by a handheld device were alone in their vehicle. The higher the number of passengers in the car, the less likely is the use of a handheld device by the driver.

“We have to get a handle on this problem now, before it gets completely out of hand,” said Murphy. “It worked with seat belts, with California now over 96 percent usage. Parents and businesses can set the example.”

Distracted driving is a serious traffic safety concern in California, joining alcohol and speeding as leading factors in fatal and serious injury crashes. While all distractions can endanger drivers’ safety, texting is the most dangerous since it involves multiple types of distraction. Dialing and texting can take a driver’s eyes from the roadway for five to ten seconds, while most crashes have less than three seconds reaction time.

OTS and the State’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) are ramping up efforts to combat distracted driving. The “It’s Not Worth It!” public awareness campaign will continue to bring the dangers of distracted driving to the attention of drivers. Plans are being made to make zero tolerance enforcements more regular and on-going well beyond Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The SHSP’s Challenge Area on distracted driving is formulating plans to increase the data and research available to more accurately understand and combat the problem.

Note: Due to rounding, not all figures may total exactly 100 percent of results.

SOURCE California Office of Traffic Safety

Source: newswire

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