San Francisco

New State Law: If You're Driving, Do Not Pick Up That Phone

The ongoing battle against distracted driving shifts into higher gear in 2017 with a new law that says it's illegal for drivers to hold their phones in their hand for any reason, regardless of whether it's talking, texting, listening or navigating.

For those charged with enforcing the new law, it could mean busy times on the shoulders of Bay Area roads.

California Highway Patrol Officer Tony Montano has spent 27 years on the job, and every single day in the past 10 years or so, he’s seen somebody holding their cellphone.

"They won’t even notice that I’m driving right next to them, and it usually takes me trying to get their attention or pulling them over before they realize im driving right next to them," said Montano, who patrols the Bay Bridge.

According to the National Safety Council, there were 1.6 million crashes on U.S. roads last year caused by drivers using cellphones. In California, the total is about 300,000. But those are more than just numbers.

"Twenty-six percent of juvenile deaths or injuries with motor vehicle collisions are from distracted or reckless driving," CHP Officer Nathan Ashby said.

The new law does not prohibit using the phone as long as it's being used in a hands-free manner, such as with a dashboard mount or bluetooth device.

Driver David Chouinard admits if his phone dings, it’s a real temptation to pick it up.

"Oh, huge temptation, huge," he said. "I mean, I can’t resist. There’s something in my phone, somebody wants me."

With the new law, picking up the phone with your hand could mean getting a ticket and a fine - if you’re caught. The fine for a first offense is $20, and subsequent offenses are $50. But with ticket fees, the cost could be upward of $100.

And even if you’re not caught, it’s a risk to yourself and everyone near you.

"It’s very much a good thing not to hold it in your hand," said Nia Dragova of San Francisco.

David Miles, of Los Angeles, said he understands the new law's intentions, but he doesn't necessarily agree with it.

"You can eat a cheeseburger and do many other things," he said. "I think we tend to overlegislate and restrict people too much."

Dashboard or windshield mounted phone holders can be found at most electronics, office supply or drug stores or online.

Montano said he was ready to pull over drivers holding their phones. But he may not be inclined to write them a ticket on the second day of the law taking effect.

"You know, we may just give them a warning if they’re not familiar with the new law," he said.

But, he added, don’t count on being able to get away with it for much longer.

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