Text messaging and talking on cell phones have proven to be as dangerous as drunk driving and local law enforcement will be cracking down on both this coming month.
The Bishop Police Department is joining the nationwide Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign starting April 1. BPD will show “zero tolerance” to drivers who put themselves and others at risk by texting or using hand-held cell phones while driving, said Chief Chris Carter.
According to the National Safety Council, “Thousands die needlessly each year because people continue to use their cell phones while driving, handheld or hands-free.” The site asks the public to join the organization “in urging those you care about to stop using cell phones while driving; understand the dangers of the cognitive distraction to the brain; inform people who call you while driving (that you will) continue the conversation once they have reached their destination; and tell others about the dangers of cell phone distracted driving.”
In an effort to set a serious tone for an ongoing trend of intolerance for drivers who break the law, BPD will issue tickets with minimum fines of $159 for the first citation, Carter said; subsequent fines will start at $279.
“Distracted driving is a serious traffic safety concern that puts everyone on the road at risk,” said Carter. And not just locally. Statewide, law enforcement is “increasingly cracking down on cell phone use and texting.” In April, more than 225 local agencies and the California Highway Patrol will be conducting zero-tolerance enforcements.
“We take the issue of distracted driving very seriously.” said Carter. “Cell phone use and texting while driving is such a serious concern that we are putting officers on the road to enforce zero tolerance. Is that text message or cell phone call really worth $159?”
Is it worth increased insurance rates, lifelong disability or even death as a result of vehicular collision? “Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. Younger, inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes,” Carter explained. Studies have revealed that “texting while driving can delay a driver’s reaction time just as severely as having a blood alcohol content of a legally drunk driver.”
Studies also show that the risks in hands-free and hand-held cell phone conversation is the same, the chief said. Both preoccupations result in “inattention blindness,” which occurs when the brain doesn’t perceive what is “clearly visible” because drivers are focused on the conversation, not the road. “When over one-third of your brain function moves over to cell phone talking, you can become a cell phone ‘zombie.’”
In line with the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, a number of strategies are suggested by Christopher J. Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety. Drivers are advised to put off calling or texting until they safely pull over or park. “Turn off your phone and put it out of reach as you get into the car.” Be considerate of friends and loved ones; “think before you call or text someone; if there is a chance they may be driving, let it wait. It’s not worth it.”
Those interested in more information about the nature of distracted driving, can register for a one-hour, online webinar, What Were You Thinking: The Myth of Multitasking, at www.nsc.org  or by calling (866) 872-5840. The webinar, to be held at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, April 10, will explain how the brain handles multiple cognitively-demanding tasks and why texting and cell phone use are such dangerous behaviors.