Using a Bluetooth earpiece doesn't guarantee you won't also be using your hands. A driver talking while stopped for a red light on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa Thursday Ocbober 30.

1,348 citations issued since hands-free cell phone use became law in July

Chances are, if you drive and have a cell phone, you've played at least one game of hide-and-seek with the police in the past four months.

"The phone's just ringing all the time," said a Santa Rosa man, explaining why he answers his cell phone while driving when he knows it could earn him a ticket and a fine.

"I can't help it."

The construction worker said he knows police are looking for cell phone use and issuing citations. That's why he keeps one eye on the road and one out for police cars while he has his conversations.

"I guess I'll get nailed sooner or later, and then I'll not do it anymore," said the man, who declined to give his name.

Since July 1, when the hands-free requirement went into effect for cell phone conversations, 1,348 citations have been issued to drivers in Sonoma County.

Santa Rosa police have issued 63 percent of those citations.

And hiding the phone or cupping it behind a hand, like many drivers reported doing Friday, doesn't fool many officers.

"It's just so obvious," said Sgt. Doug Schlief of the department's traffic division. "It's a violation, and my guys see it and write it up."

Drivers can use their cell phones if they are "hands free," meaning they are using a speaker function, a headset connected with a cord or a wireless device, such as a Bluetooth product, which fits into the ear.

Getting caught in the act of driving while holding a cell phone costs $20 for the first ticket. But court fees and other costs bring the total price of a first offense to $93 in Sonoma County.

The fine for subsequent violations is $50, plus the court fees.

Among those not taking chances with the law appear to be Sonoma County teens, who cannot legally hold any phone conversation while driving.

Of the 1,348 citations issued in Sonoma County, only 2 percent -- a total of 27 -- have been issued to minors.

In Sebastopol, Sgt. James Conner said compliance with the July law is probably about 50 percent among adults.

Among the 50 percent who continue to chat away while driving around town, trying to hide the phone is common, Conner said.

CHP Sgt. Jeff Abrams said drivers appear to be trying to comply with the law most of the time.

"Obviously, people are using the hands-free stuff way more than they ever would have without the law," Abrams said. "Unfortunately, people still get calls when they don't have their Bluetooth on, and they have to pick up the phone and answer it."

Drivers on Friday reported few qualms about using hand-held phones for both quick calls or longer conversations.

"I do play a little hide-and-seek, I guess," said a Santa Rosa man at a Stony Point Road shopping center. "It always seems one or the other's not charged, my phone or my Bluetooth."

Hearing how many citations were issued in Santa Rosa, one man, an avowed cell phone user, said he might change his mind and put the phone away while driving instead of trying to watch for police.

"I've been lucky, I guess," he said. "I better stop doing that."

You can reach Staff Writer Laura Norton at 521-5220



Cell phone citations issued in Sonoma County since July 1:

Santa Rosa: 830 adults, 23 minors

CHP: 320 adults

Petaluma: 75 adults, 2 minors

Sebastopol: 49, unknown ages

Rohnert Park: 27 adults, 2 minors

Sheriff's Department*: 20 adults

Total: 1,272 adults, 27 minors, 49 unknown age

*Includes Windsor and Sonoma police

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