Faced with a tough year-old cellphone law, more California drivers are putting their devices aside entirely when behind the wheel, a new study shows.
The study by the state Office of Traffic Safety found that fewer than 4 percent of drivers appear to be picking up and using their cellphones, a notable drop from a year ago when the same analysis found that nearly 8 percent of drivers were on their cellphones.
California safety officials are cautiously cheering what they say may be the start of a trend toward less distracted driving.
Office of Traffic Safety spokeswoman Camille Travis said the tough California law is a key part of the decreasing numbers, along with several years of public-service messages urging people to put their cellphones down and focus on the road.
“This is behavioral change,” Travis said. “People are starting to get the gist of it.”
The cellphone law, which went into effect in January 2017, prohibits drivers from holding their devices in their hands for any reason.
It plugged what safety officials called a major loophole in the state’s earlier, groundbreaking hands-free cellphone laws. Those laws only banned talking and texting on hand-held phones while driving. But any other hand-held use of a smartphone, such as reading maps, shooting videos or scanning Facebook, was technically legal.
Under the 2017 law, drivers can still use their cellphones if they do it hands-free, which often means voice activated and operated. However, those phones must be mounted on the dashboard or windshield or console. With a mounted phone, the law allows the driver to touch the device only once while driving, to “activate or deactivate a feature or function ... with the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger.”
Since the law went into effect, California Highway Patrol officers have increased the number of citations they are giving to motorists. CHP data show citation issuance jumped from 66,000 in 2016 to more than 98,000 in 2017. The first ticket a driver receives for an infraction likely will exceed $150.