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Police cracking down on cell phone use while driving
Police say that texting while driving is a rampant problem that contributed to crashes and close calls.

Twenty drivers in Ceres felt the sting of punishment on Friday for using their cell phones while driving their vehicles in the start-up of a month of high visibility enforcement operations designed to reduce distracted driving.

As part of April's Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign, Ceres Police will be joining with over 200 other local law enforcement agencies and the California Highway Patrol in a month long "zero tolerance" enforcement and education campaign to curb those texting or operating hand-held cell phones while driving.

Special high visibility enforcement operations to cite cell phone violators will take place in Ceres on April 11, 12 and 14.

The 20 cited in Ceres will have to pay fines of $161 if it was a first time offense, $281 for second or more violations.

The operation also led to the towing of five cars because the drivers had suspended licenses.

Sgt. Chris Perry of the Ceres Police traffic unit, said that increased enforcement is to persuade drivers to recognize the dangers of distracted driving and reduce the number of people impacted by this perilous behavior. Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. In addition, studies show that texting while driving can delay a driver's reaction time just as severely as having a blood alcohol content of a legally drunk driver. According to research, sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. Even a three-second glance at freeway speeds means a driver has traveled the distance of a football field.

Violation of the law is far too frequent, he said.

"I hate to say it but we can stop somebody for a cell phone violation, and write them a ticket and by the time we get back on the road, within a minute you're stopping another one," said Sgt. Perry. "We can literally do that all day long. It almost gets tiresome. There's that many violators out there."

"We take the issue of distracted driving very seriously," said Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk "because we see the aftermath of these totally preventable crashes. Is that text message or cell phone call really worth $161, or worse, someone's life?"

Research has shown that there is no difference in the risks of hands-free versus hand-held cell phone conversations, both of which can result in "inattention blindness," a phenomenon that occurs when the brain isn't recognizing what is clearly visible because the drivers' focus is on the conversation.

State law is vague on use of cell phones for different functions, said Perry. Using a smart phone for GPS is legal, he said, while texting is illegal. Likewise, he feels state law needs to be updated to prevent drivers from having pets in their lap, or reading a newspaper, which can also become a distraction or interference.