Calif. safety enemy No. 1: cell phones

Los Angeles traffic jam -- commuters on cell phonesCell phone use while driving has become the No. 1 safety problem on California roads and highways, a new survey of state motorists says.

Close behind came texting while driving. Combined, cell phoning and text messaging drew almost 40 percent of the responses.

Both problems individually outweighed last year’s main concern, “speeding and aggressive driving,” according to the second-annual survey by the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Texting soared in mentions as the biggest danger, going from last year’s 2 percent to 18 percent.

When asked to name the most serious distraction for drivers, respondents said cell phone use (56 percent) and texting while driving (27 percent). No other distracted activity (eating, grooming, etc.) was cited in more than 2 percent of the responses. Texting again increased as a concern, going from about 13 percent (2010) to 27 percent. Cell phone use (handheld or hands-free) fell by 6 percent, with most of those mentions presumably rerouted to texting.

The 2011 survey included 1,801 drivers over age 18. They were questioned at gas stations throughout California. (Read the 2011 California traffic safety report).

“This information provides us with unique insight into the concerns of Californians,” OTS Director Christopher Murphy said. “It is very telling that we’ve seen such a shift in opinions on cell phone use in just one year.”

The drivers indicated they’re getting the message about distracted driving: When asked how often they talked on a handheld cell phone in the past month, 10.5 percent said “regularly” — down from 14 percent in 2010. The majority indicated “never.”

When asked the same question about text messaging while driving, 6 percent indicated they did it regularly, down from 9 percent in 2010. 72 percent said never. More drivers 18-24 cited texting as the top danger, yet they were more likely to text message while behind the wheel.

A third of Southern California drivers cited texting as the biggest problem while only a quarter agreed in Northern California.

More responses from the traffic safety survey:

  • Four in 10 of the drivers said they used their cell phone less because of California’s handheld law.
  • Seven in 10 said hands-free cell phone use was safer than handheld use.
  • Six in 10 said they’ve been hit or almost hit by a driver yakking on a cell phone, up slightly from 2010.

The California Office of Traffic Safety survey also asked the motorists about drunken driving, sobriety checkpoints and seat belt use. The director said the survey was beginning to show trends in its second year and would provide “valuable data for our planning, particularly in distracted driving programs and the emerging drugged driving problem.”

Cell phone use by drivers ranked No. 2 in the 2010 survey about the biggest safety problems on California’s highways.

Related story: U.S. drivers recognize talking & texting as dangerous activities, but many continue to drive distracted anyway — even in high-risk traffic situations.


  1. I agree with Al Cinamon but its not Ray LaHood who’s behind the wide spread bans. He is only for banning texting. The recommendation of banning everything is from one of the smaller agencies within the NTSB.

  2. Different approach:
    Business must continue to move forward in our lives, and our personal business matters often can’t wait either. Police use mobile electronic perhaps MORE than the rest of us in the public, I seriously doubt the validity of many of these press releases and even protest that much of it is exaggerated to manipulate public opinion, perhaps by insurance companies or some other lobbyists who stand to gain from the potential bans. If not why aren’t police more frequently sited as part of the cause? Perhaps they have additional training for operating motor vehicles while playing with cellphones, walky-talkies, laptops and food at the same time. If the proposed bans go through, then why not offer exceptions, training and certifications/licensing for people who would need to be on the phone while driving?

  3. Al Cinamon says:

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (and many other survey organizations) says there is no difference between using a hand-held or hands-free device. So why are the politicians so eager to ban only hand-held? Because it’s a phony issue. The states aren’t interested in safety. The laws being passed are for raising revenue.

    When some state bans all distractions such as drinking coffee, putting on makeup and using a hands-free device, then I’ll believe they care about safety.

    So, Mr. Ray LaHood, you’re a phony too providing cover for the states.

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