Rocklin drivers refuse to hang up and drive

Six months in, 729 citations written for illegal cell phone use
By: Jon Brines, Special to The Placer Herald
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After California banned drivers from using handheld cell phones while operating a motor vehicle July 1, officers note drivers continue to make calls behind the wheel. “It’s still very prevalent,” said Rocklin Police Traffic Sergeant Bob Martin. “I see it while I’m working and I see it when I’m not working. There are a lot of people still on the phone that haven’t gotten the message.” Last July, officers gave drivers a month to sort it out, handing out brochures explaining the new law and why hands-free devices were legal. Once August rolled around, the warnings stopped and the ticket books came out. “It’s an old habit to break,” Martin said. “The phone rings, they’ll grab it, start driving and realize they are not suppose to be on the phone. By that time, they are usually getting pulled over.” In the last six months since the law took effect, 729 citations have been written, city officials report. Traffic officers have heard numerous excuses. “’I wasn’t using my phone,’ the driver said, ‘I was just resting my head against it,’” Rocklin Police Lt. Lon Milka said of one of the excuses he’s heard. One driver, when spotted by one of Rocklin’s four motorcycle officers, flipped his cell phone shut and acted as if he was using an electric shaver while driving. “He admitted it,” Martin said. Officers find that drivers are unaware they can be pull over for driving-and-talking as a primary offense. However, Martin points out, it is a secondary offense for drivers who are minors. Drivers who violate the law face a base fine of $20 for a first offense but with court costs and administration fees it comes out to about $76, according to the city. Add $50 for each subsequent offense. “Some of them say the fine is so small they’ll just keep taking their chances and use the phone,” Martin said. Milka said one driver called the fine just a business expense and vowed to write it off with his taxes. “Usually the older drivers are frustrated,” Martin said. “They think it’s too much government control and it’s just another way of making revenue. I don’t think we make a lot of money off the ticket.” While the tickets have generated more than $55,000 in six months time, city officials said they split that money with the Placer County Superior Court. The law allows drivers to use a wireless telephone for emergency purposes and drivers of commercial vehicles to use push-to-talk phones until July 1, 2011. While it’s unclear how the law is affecting traffic safety, one statistic is encouraging officers. According to police figures, the number of reported traffic collisions is down for the year. Last year there were 582 fender benders, injury accidents and hit and runs compared to 612 from the same time frame in 2007. “I don’t know how much of that is related to the cell phone law,” Martin said. But he said he’d like to think it was his officers’ enforcement, education and officers being visible on the street. “Rocklin is a pretty safe city to drive in,” Martin said. “Most of the motorists don’t have bad driving habits.”