When you get in your car, put your cellphone somewhere you can't reach.
That simple advice, issued by the state Office of Traffic Safety, could save Sacramento area residents from a ticket this coming week.
As part of a federal crackdown, the California Highway Patrol and 37 other Sacramento-area law enforcement agencies will spend the next week on the road targeting people who text or talk on hand-held cellphones while driving.
The effort is part of a $600,000 test program, "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other," sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
This week's crackdown is the first of several planned over the coming months in the region. The enforcement is linked with a marketing campaign including freeway billboards to persuade people to stop using hand-held cellphones while driving. If the effort is successful in reducing distracted driving, federal officials say they will fund similar programs elsewhere nationally.
"Talking or texting on a cellphone while driving is one of the most dangerous actions you can take on our roadways," said Chris Murphy, director of the Office of Traffic Safety, in announcing the crackdown. "We are launching this (campaign) to offer a tough lesson to any drivers using a hand-held cell or texting."
California's distracted-driving law bans all drivers from using hand-held devices and texting while operating a motor vehicle.
Officials say distracted driving remains one of the leading causes of crashes. Nationally in 2010, 3,092 people were killed, and an estimated 416,000 others were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, according to federal data.
A recent California survey found that 60 percent of drivers say they have been hit or nearly hit by someone talking or texting on a cellphone. Forty-five percent acknowledge making a driving mistake themselves while talking on a cellphone.
Law enforcement agencies have been slowly ratcheting up enforcement of the cellphone laws in recent years.
In 2011, the California Department of Motor Vehicles reported 460,487 hand-held cellphone convictions, up from 361,260 in 2010. Officials acknowledge it is often hard to detect a driver who is texting, because the person typically holds the phone below window view.
A first-time citation for texting or hand-held talking is a minimum $159 fine. A second offense is at least $279.
Officials suggest that cellphone users record an outgoing message informing callers that they do not answer their phone while driving.
Safety officials also advise people not to call people when they think that person may be driving.