Agencies near, far team up to tackle National Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Watsonville Police Sgt. Donny Thul is ready to pull over a motorist on Airport Boulevard during a BADGES operation Wednesday, which is part of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE — April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and in an effort to remind the public of the dangers of inattentive driving, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is teaming up with its traffic safety partners throughout the state and nation, said CHP officer Jaime Coffee.

California drivers continue to shift their focus away from the road and onto their phones, despite the risks associated with multitasking behind the wheel, Coffee said.

In Watsonville on Wednesday, Watsonville Police worked in concert with four other law agencies in a program known as BADGES (Before Aggressive Drivers Get Everyone Stopped), said Sgt. Donny Thul. They set up around the city aiming to pull over distracted drivers, with an emphasis on pedestrian and bicycle safety, Thul said.

At the close of the day Thul said the team of officers wrote 91 citations.

The CHP is teaming up with the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), and Impact Teen Drivers throughout the month to educate drivers on the importance of traveling free of distractions, as well as cracking down on drivers who violate the state’s hands-free cell phone law.

Today, the CHP will be on high alert while conducting Day 2 of its two-day “statewide enforcement effort” — the first was on April 4.

“Through a combination of high visibility enforcement efforts, a focused education campaign, and cooperation from the motoring public, preliminary data shows the number of inattentive drivers involved in crashes is on the decline,” said CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley.  “Ultimately, the goal is to increase voluntary compliance with the law, while keeping people safe on the road.”

According to preliminary data from the CHP, 66 people were killed and more than 6,500 were injured in 2017 from distracted driving related crashes. In 2018, the CHP issued more than 109,000 citations for violations of the hands-free cell phone laws.

“Cell phones are working against us in the fight against distracted driving,” OTS Director Rhonda Craft said. “The hope is that a combination of education and enforcement will drive people to change bad behaviors for the better.”

A 2018 observational study by the OTS on driver cell phone use found that approximately 4.5 percent of drivers were seen using a cell phone, a nearly 27 percent increase from 2017, but down from 2016, when 7.6 percent of drivers were observed using a cell phone.

“Clearly, there’s more work to be done to curb distracted driving,” Craft said. “The observational survey gives us an idea on where we stand and that we still have our work cut out for us.”

Impact Teen Drivers partners with traffic safety organizations across the state to educate California’s newest drivers of the dangers and consequences of reckless and distracted driving. Driver distraction is the primary cause of crashes involving teen drivers.

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Editor's Note: This article will publish in the April 19 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.

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