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Crackdown: Driver, put down that cellphone
Harry Singh pulled up to a Yuba City traffic light last week and called a friend on his cellphone.
The call cost him $159.
"I didn't think it was a fair ticket because I was stopped at a red light, and I thought the vehicle had to be moving," Singh said.
State distracted driving laws prevent drivers from using hand-held devices while operating a motor vehicle in traffic, according to Caltrans.
Police plan on issuing more citations in coming days as part of a new pilot program designed to enforce distracted driving laws, specifically targeting drivers holding cellphones. Additional patrols kicked off today in Marysville and Yuba City and will remain on the streets until Dec. 9.
"Officers will be out looking and will be ticketing with zero tolerance," Marysville police Sgt. Chris Sachs said.
Police plan additional crackdowns in February and June, Yuba City police Sgt. Michael Green said.
"Cellphone use is among the issues contributing to injury collisions here," Green said.
The driver cellphone ban was passed in 2008, but violations have spiked in recent years, authorities said.
Statewide, 460,487 citations were issued last year, up from 361,260 the year before, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
In 2011, Yuba City police issued 762 distracted driving citations and have already written 659 citations this year, Green said.
Marysville's citation statistics were not available.
While cellphone tickets are on the rise, awareness of the issue has also increased at the same time, according to a statewide traffic survey published earlier this year.
More than 50 percent of the drivers surveyed identified cellphone use as the biggest safety issue on state roads, up from about 39 percent last year and about 18 percent in 2010. Texting while driving has jumped from about 2 percent to nearly 25 percent of drivers citing it as the most significant driving distraction, according to the state Office of Traffic Safety.
Police and emergency responders are exempt from the hands-free cellphone ban during work hours.
"We encourage our officers to pull over when they take a call and many of them do," Sachs said, "but the law allows for work-related calls for emergency personnel."
Funding for the additional patrols come from Caltrans, which received about $1.5 million from the federal government in June to address the issue.
"Talking or texting on a cellphone while driving is one of the most dangerous actions you can take on our roadways," state Transportation Director Christopher Murphy said in a statement.
This week's campaign includes a large push for awareness through state and local media, police said.
"The goal of the special enforcement operation is not to issue tickets," Sachs said in press release.
A first-time citation costs a minimum of $159 and a second offense come with a $279 price tag.
For local residents like Singh, hands-free devices are a much cheaper solution to the problem.
"I'm using a Bluetooth now," Singh said. "I was shocked by the ticket, but, the law is the law, I guess."