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Martinez Police Preparing Zero Tolerance For Driving While Distracted

April will bring particular police vigilance for those texting and using cell phones while driving. .

As someone who considers himself a safe driver, I am outraged – outraged! – when I look over at a car next to me to see the driver with a cell phone in hand, texting. That’s my life you could be putting in danger, I want to shout to the clueless driver. Anything could happen in front of you, but you’d never know, because your attention is on that tiny little screen and tiny little keyboard.

And people talking on cell phones annoy me, as well. People need to pay attention when they drive. It’s very simple. What has happened to common sense? What could possibly be so important that it can’t wait until you are no longer operating a motor vehicle before ripping off a pithy response to the text you just received?

Unless you are, you know, me. Sure, I've done those things, but I have years behind the wheel. I know what I’m doing. Kids need to have more experience before they start doing other things while driving. Right?

Truth be told, I’m ashamed that I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to such behavior. I have, in fact, texted while driving, even though I know it’s an insane thing to do. I have typed band names into Spotify while driving down Alhambra Avenue, my eyes more on the tiny screen than the windshield. No excuses offered – it’s a dumb thing to do. It’s dangerous and we all need to stop doing it.

In April, the Martinez Police Department will be doing their level best to catch and cite anyone they spot texting or in any other way using a phone while operating a vehicle.

“As part the April 2012 Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign, Martinez PD will be offering “zero tolerance” to those texting or operating hand-held cell phones on April 3rd and April 18th.  Drivers who break the law and place themselves and others in danger will be cited.  The current minimum ticket cost is $159, with subsequent tickets costing at least $279,” according to a release from the department.

“Distracted driving is a very serious issue.” said Martinez PD Chief Gary Peterson. “Cell phone use and texting, while driving, is such a serious concern that the Department will have zero tolerance policy during the month. Is that text message or cell phone call really worth $159 or the increased chance of a collision?”

According to those who keep such statistics, drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. Younger, inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes, according to these studies. In addition, they also show that texting while driving can delay a driver’s reaction time just as severely as having a blood alcohol content of a legally drunk driver.

Apparently, hands-free phone conversations are no safer. According to the release, “studies show that there is no difference in the risks between hands-free and hand-held cell phone conversations, both of which can result in “inattention blindness,” which occurs when the brain isn’t seeing what is clearly visible because the drivers’ focus is on the phone conversation and not on the road.  When over one third of your brain’s functioning that should be on your driving moves over to cell phone talking, you can become a cell phone “zombie.”

While I salute the Martinez PD for issuing a press release with the phrase “cell phone zombie” in it, I also thank the department for focusing on this issue, because it is a growing and certainly dangerous problem. And knowing that special attention is being paid to this particular infraction may help keep my hands on the wheel, and off the tiny little keyboard.

Bill Schilz March 28, 2012 at 02:18 PM
I wholeheartedly support this enforcement action. I can't tell you how many times I'll see someone swerving or wandering on the roadway only to pass them and see that they're texting or paying attention to the screen on their phone. They don't seem to realize the life they are putting in jeopardy may be mine! Now, if we could also tackle the many people coming and going to/from town on Alhambra weaving in and out at 45mph+ so they can get to court or Hwy 4 quicker!
Julee Johnson March 28, 2012 at 02:50 PM
I support this, but I think it needs to be zero tolerance all the time to change people's habits. People forget, the law doesn't seem to have any teeth, and it keeps happening.
Jed March 28, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Zero tolerance never works. Power hungry takes over in those cases (as in schools where janitors become elevated to supreme power postitions, for example). Just uphold the existing laws with regularity and integrity. No badge-heavy cops, please.
Cathy Hanson March 28, 2012 at 04:49 PM
A friend of mine came about 2 inches from a head on collision at the corner of Pacheco Blvd and Howe Road from someone making a turn and talking on his cell phone the same time. This has GOT to stop! I see people doing it all the time. I totally support this police effort .
George March March 28, 2012 at 06:10 PM
I support this, and offer the corner of Linden Ln and Alhambra Way as a watch point for the patrol vehicles (parked on Linden Ln, not in plain obvious sight as that is the only time when drivers wholesale actually behave). Not only can they catch a multitude of phone-users, but also stop sign ignorers, helmet law ignorers, and speeders all at the same time. They could fill the city's coffers in a week with the violations if they truly acted with zero tolerance (meaning merely enforcing the existing laws!). Of course, the patrol officers would have to not be using THEIR cell phones too - and I've seen that plenty of times!
Erik Wood March 28, 2012 at 06:29 PM
I think we live in a culture where business people need to 'hit the ball over the net'. Teens consider it rude not to reply immediately to texts. Home schedules would grind to a halt without immediate communication. We are conditioned to pursue this level of efficiency but we are all supposed cease this behavior once we sit in our respective 5,000 pound pieces of steel and glass. Creating a sustainably safer driver may start with public awareness via legislation but legislation alone cannot win this battle. I read that more than 3/4 of teens text daily - many text more 4000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook - even with their professors. Tweens (ages 9 -12) send texts to each other from their bikes. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and I think we need to do more than legislate. I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens) I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple GPS based texting auto reply app for smartphones. It also silences call ringtones while driving unless you have a bluetooth enabled. I think if we can empower the individual then change will come to our highways now and not just our laws. Erik Wood, owner OTTER app “do one thing well... be great.”
Harriett Burt March 28, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Good article, Jim. I agree that two days next month isn't probably enough but it's a start. And yes, I've seen police stopped at the Green Street/Ferry Street stop sign while I cross talking on their cell phones without a hands free device. They need to model the behavior they want. But I also agree that even with a hands free, one can be distracted. So I have totally stopped using my cell in the moving automobile,
George March March 28, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Erik, I agree and disagree with some of your comments. Also, kudos for working on a physical 'fix' to address the addiction of phone usage. I do not believe home schedules would come to a halt. More forethought and planning may be required for some, but that would not cause collapse of scheduling. That is what scheduling is all about... *advanced* planning. Leaving all decisions to the last second and then depending on mobile communication to 'get 'er done' is not planning. And (all) colleges have not done away with email. It is still available, but perhaps a growing number of new students just don't (choose to) use it. Similarly, kids have a "phone", but do not use it AS a phone (I'd bet there are some who probably never have). The evolution of communications technology is moving at a tremendous pace, and as with any popular new thing there are consequences that must be addressed. The big question is how many people must be killed and maimed before the understanding that driving (or riding your bike) while on the phone or texting or answering email or instant messages is just not smart, or safe at any speed.
Benton March 29, 2012 at 11:43 PM
So how many accidents have been attributed to distracted drivers in Martinez since the cell phone/texting laws were enacted? How many drivers have been cited? And how many complaints has MPD fielded regarding distracted drivers? At any rate I support this effort and can't wait to read about the results later in CoCoTimes and MTZ Patch. And I also hope MPD will crack down on the knuckleheads who think it's okay to run stop signs and speed at night. Drivers know that at night hardly any MPD officers are around and so disregard stop signs and speed limits with impunity. Would also like to see MPD step up enforcement of pedestrian right-of-way. I've had several daylight encounters in marked crosswalks. Drivers couldn't be bothered to stop and were inches from running me down. And I'm talking about Court St. @ Ward and Muir Rd. @ Glacier Dr. Also for folks complaining about cops on cell phones, the law exempts peace officers who use their cell phones while operating police vehicles. But if you overhear them making personal calls instead of police-related calls while on-duty, by all means complain to Chief Peterson.

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