Santa Rosa police on the lookout for distracted drivers

The city’s police officers will be on the lookout for potentially distracted drivers on Friday.|

Santa Rosa police are adding extra patrol officers Friday to look for drivers who are violating the state’s hands-free cellphone law.

Under a new state law that took effect July 1, drivers who use a handheld phone while driving are not only being fined, but also a point is being added to their driving record for each violation occurring within 36 months of a previous conviction for the same offense. The one-point penalty is equivalent to a speeding violation.

Drivers are not allowed to hold a cellphone or electronic communications device while driving, including for talking, texting or using an app under state law.

In a news release, police called distracted driving “a serious issue, but one that can be easily solved simply by putting the phone down. That text, phone call, email or social media post can wait.”

Distracted driving has been a long-time concern for the Santa Rosa Police Department, Public Information Officer Sgt. Christopher Mahurin said. They saw a huge decrease in distracted driving in 2020 because of the pandemic, but with people back on the roads, cellphone use is more of a concern now.

The $350,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety is part of a program that every year funds patrols to enhance traffic safety on roads, including but not limited to alcohol and drug-impaired driving, distracted driving and bicyclist and pedestrian safety, Office of Traffic Safety spokesperson Tim Weisberg said in an email.

“More emphasis is placed on statistically more prevalent issues like impaired driving, but distractions behind the wheel remain an ongoing concern,” Weisberg said.

Their data-driven programs aim to reduce injuries and fatalities on the road.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2019 California had 19,000 crashes involving distracted driving, resulting in 108 deaths and more than 13,000 injuries.

Nationwide, 3,142 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“These numbers are likely higher due to underreporting,” Weisberg said. “It can be difficult to prove at times since some drivers may not directly admit they were using their phone before a crash.”

Distracted driving because of texting was the biggest safety concern for 75% of 2,801 residents surveyed in the UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center’s annual traffic safety survey. Over half of those surveyed said they have been hit or nearly hit by a driver on their phone.

Staff Writer Kathleen Coates contributed to this report.

Alana Minkler

Breaking news & general assignment reporter, The Press Democrat

The world is filled with stories that inspire compassion, wonder, laughs and even tears. As a Press Democrat reporter covering breaking news, tribes and youth, it’s my goal to give others a voice to share these stories.

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