Patterson Police Services and 36 other law enforcement agencies involved in a pilot program to curb cell phone use among drivers, participating in a campaign that started Feb. 25 and is ending Sunday, March 10.
As of Friday, March 8, local deputies had handed out about 190 tickets at $157 apiece, Patterson Police Services Deputy Robert Banks said. Patterson deputies will have used some 115 hours of overtime by the time the heightened enforcement period is complete, he said.
The state Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are paying $16,000 for the statewide pilot program, which includes the current crackdown well as an enforcement effort that occurred in late November and another planned for June.
Police have used different tactics and have patrolled for cell phone scofflaws in different parts of Patterson, said Banks, who serves as Patterson’s lone full-time traffic deputy.
“On (Feb. 27) we had four vehicles line up all at once, pulling over cell phone users on Las Palmas,” he said. “People would see us with one person pulled over and get on their cell phone right in front of us. We’d just radio to the next car down the road and they’d pull that car over. Before long we had four patrol cars busy with traffic stops at once.”
Detective Terrence Shadel, who has helped out with the extra enforcement, said deputies have tried locations such as Sperry Avenue near Interstate 5 as well as the north and south ends of Patterson. However, one place drivers continue to break the cell phone law more than any other is the 100 block of East Las Palmas Avenue, he said. Coming into or exiting Patterson, drivers believe they can get away with using their cell phones while driving, he said.
Banks and Shadel were busy teaming up in one patrol car on Friday, March 8, sitting in a vacant lot on the 100 block of East Las Palmas Avenue. They pulled over four cars, issued three citations and towed one vehicle for someone driving without a license between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
“With the two of us working, it’s pretty clean and quick,” Banks said.
Shortly after 2:20 p.m. Shadel spotted someone in a 1990s red Honda Civic with a cell phone in his hand as he passed in front of the patrol car on East Las Palmas Avenue. Shadel whipped the sheriff patrol car into action, throwing on the car's siren and lights and flying east on East Las Palmas Avenue before taking a sharp left turn down Weber Avenue and pulling over the driver just before Finster Street.
After talking with the driver, Shadel came back and said the driver did not have identification with him and admitted to having a suspended license. When Shadel called his dispatcher to have the license checked, he found the driver had no license at all, and the car was registered to someone else, which meant it had to be towed and impounded.
The two deputies said the violations can get expensive very quickly. Patterson charges $150 to get a car released to the rightful owner on the same day and more than $160, according to Banks. That's in addition to the $157 fine for driving with a cell phone in hand.
Yet agencies involved in the pilot program stress this is not just a matter of fees, but of saving lives. In 2010, at least 3,092 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes, accounting for about one in every 10 fatalities on the nation's roadways, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Patterson police have recommended the following tips for drivers:
• Turn off your phone and/or put it out of reach,
• State 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.
• Contact the Irrigator at 892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.