NAPA (KCBS) – Distracted drivers caused almost 6,000 deaths and nearly half a million injuries nationwide in 2009.

Now, California law enforcement agencies are looking to crack down on offenders, designating April as Distracted Driver Awareness Month.

“Officers throughout California and in the city of Napa will be looking for those drivers that are using handheld cell phone devices, whether it be texting and or talking on a device,” said Napa Police Sergeant Mike Hensley.

KCBS’ Rebecca Corral Reports:

Hensley said his agency is one of many intensifying efforts to catch people doing the wrong thing.

“As far as the city of Napa, we had a fatal collision in February that was attributed to distracted driving and cell phone use,” he said.

Sergeant Hensley said many people don’t seem to realize how dangerous talking or texting while driving really is.

“There’s been some studies that have shown that inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distracted-related fatality crashes,” he said. “Drivers that are using handheld cell phones are four times as likely to get into crashes. When you’re operating a handheld device and texting, you’re basically the equivalent of a .08 blood alcohol, which is the legal limit for DUI.”

The first ticket starts at $159 for offenders, with the dollar amount increasing with each subsequent ticket.

The state of California enacted a ban on handheld cell phone use while driving in 2008.  The monthlong campaign,  which will involve the California Highway Patrol and 225 local California police agencies, begins on Monday.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (4)
  1. Howard Lader says:

    It is about time that the Highway Patrol and city police issued stiff fines
    for those idiots who talk or text while driving.

  2. Daniel says:

    Drivers can no longer talk or text on their phones while driving, but what about putting on make up, looking for the right song on the MP3, fighting with the kids in the back, getting “pleasured” by the passenger, reading the paper, or eating a big bowl of pho?

    The law should be revised to include ALL forms of distractions which impair driving.

  3. Erik Wood says:

    I think legislation has value in raising public awareness in forums like this one but it will be difficult to solely legislate our way out of this issue. I just read that 72% of teens text daily – many text more 4000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook – even with their professors. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and its not going away.

    I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens) I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. It also silences call ringtones while driving unless you have a bluetooth enabled. I think if we can empower the individual then change will come to our highways now and not just our laws.

    Erik Wood, owner
    OTTER app

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