credit: Emma Anderson
Palos Verdes Peninsula High School

Opinion: Is California doing enough to combat distracted driving?

We are glued to our phones. Whether it’s sending a text message, scrolling through an Instagram feed, or watching Snapchat stories, our lives have become so digitally connected that we find ourselves consumed by our mobile devices. New smartphone technology gives us immediate access to news, social media, games, and more all at the touch of a button. However, all good things come with reasonable limits, and when the smartphone becomes a distraction and interferes with one’s ability to operate a motor vehicle, it can mean life or death.

Distracted driving via cell phones has become a serious issue in the state of California. In a 2013 survey conducted by the California Office of Traffic Safety, 61% of California drivers reported being hit or nearly hit by a driver who was operating a cell phone. Even worse, a study conducted by Cohen Children’s Medical Center found that texting while driving kills even more teenagers than drinking and driving does.

Currently, California punishes drinking and driving with license suspension, vehicle impoundment, and fines of up to $1000. However, if one violates the law by texting and driving, he or she is only charged a $20 fine. Considering the dire consequences that can result from texting and driving, California needs to establish harsher regulations and raise public awareness of this pressing issue.

Fortunately, a solution to this problem is not far away. During Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April, several groups took the initiative to promote traffic safety in California. For example, in early April, police departments in San Francisco, San Diego and Modesto organized distracted driving crackdowns within their communities. These stings lasted between seven hours to two days and allowed officers to issue more tickets than usual and specifically target distracted drivers.

This type of increased enforcement is exactly what the state needs; however, before these events can produce a lasting effect, more police departments must get involved. The most crucial being the Los Angeles Police Department which oversees 382 miles of conventional highway, 527 miles of freeway, and 92 million vehicles driven per day.

So far, the LAPD has not participated in any of these texting & driving deployments. They claim they will exhibit a “zero tolerance” behavior when citing distracted drivers, but they have yet to participate in any of these physical crackdown operations. Instead, the LAPD spend their time “campaigning” for the cause by holding news conferences at Panorama High School and posting Twitter statuses telling people to keep their “eyes on the road.”

Their effort to convince the public to obey the law would probably prove effective, if it wasn’t for the fact that among the 98% of individuals who believed texting behind the wheel posed danger, 75% of them still reported doing it. Simply making people “believe” texting and driving is wrong doesn’t always convince them to stop. Distributing more tickets and forcing texting victims to physically face the law produces a more direct consequence for the issue at hand.

In fact, the New York City Police Department was able to increase the number of texting and driving tickets by 50 percent in 2014 by simply increasing enforcement and adopting larger penalties. If the LAPD were to do that for a few hours, imagine the impact it would have on the community. It’s indubitably a win-win situation. The money gained from the ticket fees can go back to the state and the texting victims would be saved from possible future accidents.

All it takes is a simple change in law enforcement to make a big change in the community.