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These California drivers are still on cell phones, despite state’s get-tough law

Trying to understand why distracted drivers think they can multitask

Most people are aware of the dangers of trying to multitask while driving, but most continue to do it anyway.
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Most people are aware of the dangers of trying to multitask while driving, but most continue to do it anyway.

The number of California drivers illegally using their cell phones while behind the wheel increased in 2018, a state observational study has found. Notably, use is highest among people driving alone.

People stationed at intersections around the state observed that at any one moment, 4.5 percent of drivers were using their cell phones. That was an increase from 3.6 percent the previous year, and caused some concern among state highway safety officials.

“Our goal is to end distracted driving, and there’s still work to be done,” said Rhonda Craft, head of the state Office of Traffic Safety. “This observational survey gives us an idea on where we stand getting drivers’ attention away from their phones and where we still have work to do.”

The annual study was conducted at 204 locations in 17 counties during August and September by the Office of Traffic Safety and California State University, Fresno.

The percentage of drivers using their phones was down, however, from 2016, when 7.6 percent were seen using their phones.

Craft of OTS said that suggests more drivers are aware of the dangers of distracted driving than in past years.

“Social norms are changing when it comes to distracted driving,” Craft said. “When a driver’s perception of risk changes for certain behaviors like using their phone and driving, they are less likely to do something that can get them in trouble or worse, in a crash.”

California first banned hand-held use of cell phones for phone calls a decade ago. In 2017, it added a major new prohibition, banning any hand-held use at all of cell phones, such as to read maps and send text messages. Under that law, drivers can only use mounted phones, and are limited to using them with one touch or one swipe to activate them.

Other findings in the 2018 study include:

Drivers who were alone in their car were eight times more likely to be using their cell phones than drivers who had passengers.

Drivers were more apt to be using their phones while driving on local roads than on highways.

Drivers more typically were using their cell phones to perform functions, such as texting, than to talk on the phone.

Fewer than 2 percent of drivers were using their phones while driving with child passengers.

The citation amount for violating the no-hands law is a $162 fine for a first offense.

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