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Federal distracted driving crackdown coming to California

Most California drivers have probably heard of the “Click it or Ticket” campaign designed to reduce fatal accident rates by getting motorists to wear their seatbelts. The program is widely regarded as having had a huge impact on highway safety.

Now, the U.S. Department of Transportation is working with California officials to implement a similar public awareness and enforcement program around the issue of distracted driving.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced last week that California and Delaware will share a $2.4 million grant to pilot a campaign called “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other.” Its goal is to determine whether advertising and increased ticketing can help induce drivers to put down their cellphones and pay attention to the road.

The help cannot come too soon. In California, it is illegal to text or use a handheld cellphone while driving, but data from the state Office of Traffic Safety shows that nearly 11 percent of drivers are operating in violation of this law at any given time. Their behavior puts every person on the road at risk. In 2010 alone, more than 3,000 people were killed by distracted drivers. That same year, cellphone use played a role in at least 24 percent of all motor vehicle accidents.

Officials hope that the campaign will help bring the same stigma to distracted driving that is currently attached to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Previous iterations of the program have had measureable success. A 2011 pilot in Hartford, Connecticut and Syracuse, New York resulted in a 72 percent decline in texting-while-driving rates in Hartford and a 32 percent drop in Syracuse.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Distracted driving: California gets $1.5 million to keep eyes on road,” Jamie Goldberg, June 8, 2012.

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