Buttonwillow officers have written 64 citations for talking and 12 for texting while driving in first week alone

Texting drivers beware: The California Highway Patrol is stepping up enforcement on people talking and texting while driving.

April is Districted Driving Awareness Month in California and California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and Impact Teen Drivers (ITD) will be working together 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.

Through April 7, officers from the CHP's Buttonwillow station have written 64 citations for talking on a cell phone while driving and 12 for texting while driving.

No warnings are being issued because, as CHP officer Adam Taylor said there will be "zero warnings as this is a zero tolerance campaign."

The CHP has two special statewide enforcement effort to discourage distracted driving.

The first was April 4 and the second will follow on April 16.

On the first enforcement day, Buttonwillow CHP officers wrote 14 citations for talking.

Activity picked up more the next day and there were 35 total cites issued, 26 for talking and texting.

Despite all the education and enforcement efforts, district driving is still a major safety concern.

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

According to preliminary data from the CHP, 66 people were killed and more than 6,500 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.

 “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.”

 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 on the dangers and consequences of reckless and distracted driving. Driver distraction is the primary cause of crashes involving teen drivers.

“Each year, we could fill eight large yellow school buses with the number of teens we lose to preventable car crashes in California alone,” Impact Teen Drivers Executive Director Dr. Kelly Browning said. “The first week of April is also California Teen Safe Driving Week, and it’s a good time to remind everyone that we need to always keep two hands on the wheel, two eyes on the road, and most importantly keep our mind focused on our driving. Remember to be an alert and engaged passenger at all times – after all, fifty percent of the teen driving fatalities last year were passengers being driven by another teen driver.”

Distracted driving laws have been on the books since 2008. The CHP and the OTS remind drivers that under the 2017 hands-free cell phone law, drivers are not allowed to hold a wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device while driving a motor vehicle.