Distracted Driver Crackdown Coming

Distracted drivers: more than 1 million crashes per year nationally

In an effort to stem crashes attributed to distracted driving, police plan a blitz of California freeways in April to ticket motorists caught using their phones while driving.

Hundreds of police agencies across the state are planning a crackdown on the five-year anniversary of a law that was put into place to help stem the problem. The push is happening during Distracted Driver Awareness Month.

This month is close to home for one mother, whose 16-year-old son Conor Lynch was struck by a car near Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks in October 2010.

A makeshift memorial with candles and flowers sits at the location near where Conor was hit, a visible reminder to motorists that the toll on distracted driving can have, said his mother, Jeri Dye Lynch.

Although the case was not prosecuted as such, Conor's mother said she's committed to working to prevent it.

“It’s the CHP and police officers who see the bodies on the road,” said Jeri Dye Lynch, who started a foundation in her son's memory, www.InHonorOfConor.com.

Out of the 1.3 million distracted driving crashes each year across the country, some 3,300 people die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Safety Council, a non-profit that works to prevent crashes involving distracted driving.

“Studies show that 90 percent of drivers think they can drive better than everyone else -- everyone thinks they’re special,” said Chris Cochran, spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety, which tracks roadway statistics.

In California, police issue hundreds of thousands of tickets for distracted driving every year -- over 400,000 alone in 2012. That's a 31 percent jump over 2009, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety.

The number of tickets issued for texting alone in the state jumped sevenfold, from nearly 3,000 in 2008 to over 21,000 in 2012.

Cochran shared the excuses drivers give when pulled over for texting and driving.

“A lot of people will use the ‘prayer while driving’ excuse,” Cochran said. Some people, he added, say "I was checking out my shoelaces.”

New cell phone laws took effect July 1, 2008 in California. They said drivers age 18 and over may use hands-free devices while driving. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use any type of hand-held or hands-free wireless phone while driving, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

That year, police began ticketing motorists for texting while driving.

Despite the intent of the to law to try to discourage the practice, the number of tickets that police have issued has doubled every year since, according to the state's Office of Traffic Safety.

At least two bills are making their way through the state legislature that are designed to strengthen the penalties for distracted driving.

The penalty for a first offense for talking on the phone and driving is $159. A motorist caught a second time can face a $279 fine.

A driver who's caught breaking the law more than twice will not lose his driver's license.

Some companies are stepping up to try to further restrict the temptation to multitask while driving.

A North Carolina-based company recently created a “Dock-N-Lock” system that would only allow the vehicle to start when a mobile phone is docked into the dashboard.

The company plans to roll out the system in June.

Lynch said she doesn’t see the need to text while driving, and this is clearly an epidemic.

“It might be you who gets killed, or your brother, or you might kill someone,” Lynch said.

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