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Driving while distracted

Calling a daughter is no excuse. And not knowing how to use a hands-free device won't work either.

Still, these are explanations drivers have given to Santa Rosa police officers after being pulled over using their cellphones.

"I'm a social worker and I need to check the phone for work," said one driver.

"I know I was on the phone," another told the officer. "Did I do anything else?"

Using a cellphone is the greatest source of inattention and makes a driver four times more likely to get into a crash serious enough to injure themselves, studies show.

Law enforcement agencies across the county have begun a monthlong, and now annual, effort to target drivers who can't resist their phones while behind the wheel.

"Distraction changes seemingly good drivers and turns them into bad drivers," Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Rich Celli said.

The crackdown started this week, and while the focus is cellphone use, any kind of distraction could warrant a ticket, police said.

"We're also looking at just being distracted in general, putting on your makeup, reading the newspaper while driving down the road," Celli said.

Tickets in Sonoma County bring hefty fines of $160 for a first time and $280 for a second time.

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