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Police patrol for drivers ignoring cell phone law

By: Jenna Nielsen, Gold Country News Service
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California Highway Patrol officers and local law enforcement are helping motorists adjust to the new cell phone law that took effecty July 1. The law requires drivers 18 and over to use hands-free cell phone devices while operating a vehi-cle. Those under 18 are now prohibited from using any cell phone while driving. Kelly Baraga, spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol, said during the patrols conducted July 1 in Roseville by CHP, Roseville and Lincoln police and the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, officers made 47 cellular phone contact stops, which resulted in eight citations and 39 verbal warn-ings. First-time offenders face fines ranging from $20 to $75, once bail and penalty costs are factored in, according to the California Highway Patrol. Second citations can range from $150 to $190. “We are surprised that we had as few people with cell phones up their ear,” Baraga said. “In that area you find a high percentage of people on their phone, but it seems people are heeding the warning and are aware that we are enforcing the law.” Drivers in the Auburn area were still rushing to reach compliance at zero hour. “I think it’s a good law, “ said Michael Johnson of Grass Valley who purchased a new Jawbone bluetooth headset for his iPhone in Auburn Tuesday. “I’ve seen drivers on Highway 49 swerving in their lane and I’m thinking they’re drunk. Then I pull up to pass and they’re actually on their cell phone.” Baraga said motorists have been making an apparent effort to reach compliance, but a few are just unaware of the extent of the law. “We are finding that people still have some questions,” Baraga said. “Some people were seen using Nextels and push-to-talk features. Those are still illegal unless you are a commercial driver. Everyone else has to have a hands-free device.” The level of future patrols is also going to depend on who is abiding by the law. “It we see a high level of compliance from the public, we probably won’t have as many check-points,” Baraga said. “But if we start to see people getting (lackadaisical) and we find that officers are issuing more citations, we may consider another joint operation like the ones we saw (Tuesday).” Auburn Journal Photo Editor Ben Furtado contributed to this report.