Apodaca: Pay attention, distracted drivers

April 05, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

A few years ago I was driving near my home in Newport Beach when I noticed that the car in the lane next to me was weaving.

I slowed in order to give the other car a wide berth. Following from a short distance, I watched, slack-jawed in astonishment, as the car blew through two stop signs and then made a right turn immediately in front of oncoming cross traffic.

The driver, a woman who appeared to be about the same age as me, had been gabbing away on a cell phone. She blithely continued on her way, seemingly oblivious to the screeching brakes and honking from other cars, or to how close she'd been to causing an accident.


We all have stories like this; some are much worse. Prosecutors believe that alcohol and texting proved a deadly combination in February, when a car struck a bicyclist on San Joaquin Hills Road. The Newport Coast woman who was driving has been charged with gross vehicular manslaughter.

Curbing drunk driving, of course, has long been a priority of law enforcement agencies. But new research has been emerging that indicates texting while driving can be equally dangerous.

So I was gratified to learn that Newport Beach and Costa Mesa are joining in a statewide effort to crack down on the meathead motorists they blandly refer to as "distracted" drivers.

California has designated April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and as part of that campaign the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa police departments will enforce "zero tolerance days" for cell phone use and texting while driving. The first ticket would cost at least $159, and subsequent violations would run $279.

Police in the past have tended to issue warning citations for cell phone violations, said Newport Beach Police Sgt. Steve Burdette. The new campaign will still focus on educating drivers, he said, but now "there will be teeth to" enforcement efforts.

Distracted driving is a major cause of accidents nationwide. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 20% of all injury crashes in 2009 involved distractions such as the use of cell phones and other electronic devices, eating and drinking, reading, grooming, and talking to passengers.

That same year, 5,474 people were killed in car crashes in which distracted driving was a factor. Nearly 1,000 of those fatalities involved cell phone use.

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