CHP Commissioner Acknowledges Difficulties of Distraction Enforcement

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The California Highway Patrol and various other police agencies throughout the state have gone all in on distracted driving enforcement.  Some research suggests that distraction could now be a greater threat to our nation’s roads than intoxicated driving.  Various public safety campaigns of the past focused on that particular threat, and thus the idea of drunk driving as a hazard is firmly entrenched in the minds of people across the country (even if not everyone takes it as seriously as they should).

That’s not the case with distracted driving.  While there have indeed been various awareness and enforcement efforts in place, the relative infancy of the very idea of texting and driving means that work remains to be done to both spread the word about the danger and to crack down on those people who flagrantly violate the law.

Yesterday, the CHP’s Commissioner was in San Diego for a Governors Highway Safety Association meeting to speak about the various challenges that lie ahead.  A report relates his thoughts on the matter.  Many of those challenges lie in just how difficult it can sometimes be to ticket someone spotted texting or talking on a handheld cellphone at the wheel.

At the moment, those states with bans on texting but not talking have it particularly rough.  Drivers can hold their phones out of reach of the police, or if pulled over, they could claim that they were simply dialing a number.  Unless a traffic cop is able to monitor the person’s driving for a few seconds and guarantee that a text has been sent, getting a citation to stick proves difficult.

Although California has things a bit easier given the ban on all handheld cellphone usage, the Commissioner points out that citing drivers is still hard, especially if the person decides to challenge the ticket.  An officer must see the phone in a person’s hand and up to their ear.  And if they are indeed texting, then the difficulties inherent with other states come into play.  Once the ticket is issued, the officer then has to go to court to vouch for the veracity of the citation.

It’s the court date that often proves to be the undoing of many a citation, but that may be starting to change.  Earlier this year, a driver attempted to challenge a ticket by claiming that he was using a map rather than composing a text message.  But the court decided that the mere act of holding the phone in one’s hand was enough to get on the wrong side of the law.

The Commissioner hopes that the efforts of law enforcement agencies around the state and the country will get drivers in the habit of stowing a cellphone the same way most people now buckle their seatbelts when the car starts.