Post updated 1:37 p.m., April 2:
Still have that urge to fiddle with your phone while driving to get a text message sent? Authorities from the Westside to across Southern California say it's going to cost you.
As part of April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign, the Los Angeles Police Department will be actively ticketing those texting or operating hand-held cell phones throughout the month of April with maximum enforcement dates on April 3 and 16.
Wednesday is a zero tolerance day, and drivers who break the law and place themselves and others in danger will be cited with no warning, says LAPD. Fines start around $160 and a second offense can cost about $280.
The 'Safety on Sunset' driving safety campaign in Pacific Palisades and Brentwood has already been in effect for one month, an effort spearheaded by City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, area constituents and traffic safety advocates, so awareness has been high.
"Law enforcement plays a vital role in the public safety of our streets," said Amy Kalp, vice president of LAPD's West Bureau Community Police Advisory Board (CPAB) Traffic Committee. "That means a necessary and tougher stance with respect to enforcement of our traffic laws. Texting, or using a hand held device, while driving is just one component of that."
Kalp, of Pacific Palisades and a founding member of the 'Safety on Sunset' campaign, said the committee will help educate the public about safe driving habits and to raise awareness through the two public safety campaigns.
"Statistically speaking, the numbers are just too high," Kalp told Patch. "In the Palisades alone, we saw five traffic accidents in one week in March, two involving pedestrians being hit and there have been too many other close calls not just here in the Palisades but in all communities within L.A."
According to LAPD during April 2012, more than 57,000 tickets were written statewide for texting and hand-held cell use. There were nearly 450,000 convictions in 2012.
"Texting while driving and causing an accident or injury to others or yourself as a result or getting pulled over and issued a ticket, those are optional," Kalp added. "Are either of them really worth it?"
Robert Ringler, president of the CPAB traffic committee, echoed Kalp's thoughts, adding that the crack down is a start.
"I hope it changes people’s behavior," he said. "Maybe through the pocketbook they will learn to change their attitude and pull over and make that text in a safe place."
In recent years, LAPD reports that hundreds have been killed and thousands seriously injured in California as a result of collisions that involved at least one driver who was distracted. Nationally, an estimated 3,331 died in 2011. As a result,law enforcement across the state, including the LAPD, are increasingly cracking down on cell phone use and texting. Throughout April drivers will see more than 225 local agencies plus the California Highway Patrol conducting zero tolerance enforcements.
"The increased enforcement by LAPD officers will help underscore the serious nature of our campaign," said Councilman Rosendahl on Tuesday. "The banners are a great start, and now paired with stepped up enforcement for the entire month, and people know we mean business."
Pacific Palisades Community Council President Barbara Kohn and Brentwood Community Council President Nancy Freedman agreed the LAPD enforcement melds well with the 'Safety on Sunset' campaign.
"PPCC is grateful that LAPD is actively enforcing, once again this year, the no texting or talking while driving awareness campaign," Kohn said Monday.
"It is not worth the heartbreak of harm to someone, be it the driver or other innocent people in their path," Freedman added.
According to studies cited by law enforcement, young, inexperienced drivers are most susceptible to having an accident because of distracted driving. Drivers using any kind of handheld electronic device are about four time more likely to have a wreck than drivers who are not using them.
"This effort is intended to educate our community about the dangers of cell phone use while driving," said Lieutenant Katona, of the LAPD Traffic Coordination Section. "We hope that once people see the statistics and realize the danger involved, they will change their driving habits to help protect themselves, their families, and others on the road.”
Studies also show that there is no difference in the risks between hands-free and hand-held cell phone conversations, both of which can result in “inattention blindness” which occurs when the brain isn’t seeing what is clearly visible because the drivers’ focus is on the phone conversation and not on the road.
To avoid a distracted driving ticket or traffic collision, the LAPD offers drivers the following tips:
- Turn off your phone and/or put it out of reach while driving.
- Include in your outgoing message that you can’t answer while you are driving.
- Don’t call or text anyone at a time when you think they may be driving.
- City News Service contributed to this report.