Hands-free cell phone law ignored by many


It's easy to see many Bay Area drivers have yet to embrace California's new hands-free cell phone law. In one hour, at the Mount Diablo Boulevard and South Main Street intersection in Walnut Creek, ABC7 spotted dozens of drivers still holding their phones to their ears, in one case, in plain view of a police officer.

"Are people obeying the law?" asked ABC7's Laura Anthony.
"Absolutely not," said Grant Traill, a cell phone user.
"People look like they're still using their phones in their cars," said Anthony.
"They are," said another man.

So far the California Highway Patrol has issued 14,659 $20 citations since July 1, 2008.

"There are millions of licensed drivers in the state of California, so when you look at 14,000 citations, that's very minimal, considering how many motorists we have out driving on the roads," said Trent Cross, with the California Highway Patrol.

But could the low number be due to a lack of enforcement?

In the nine Bay Area counties, the CHP has issued 2,455 tickets. The CHP totals do not include citations issued by local police agencies. For instance, Walnut Creek Police say so far they've issued more than 60 citations to cell phone violators.

"I don't think it's working at all. I talk to people all the time who say they are talking to me while they're on their cell phone, and if they hang up, it's because they saw a cop," said Lesa Barnes, from Walnut Creek.

The CHP believes the new hands-free law is saving lives, but so far they don't have any statistics to back it up. The CHP won't have figures to see if the new law has cut down on accidents, until sometime next year. Prior statistics from the state indicated cell phone use was a factor in less than one percent of serious crashes. The CHP would like to see that number drop to zero.

"We strongly encourage motorists not to use the phones at all. We just encourage people to focus on their driving, place two hands on the steering wheel, and not be distracted by anything," said Cross.

It's a message, it seems a good number of Bay Area drivers, have yet to receive.

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