If you didn’t get a text, email, or Facebook update about it on your cell, you might not know that between October 13 and 14, law enforcement agencies throughout Goleta and Santa Barbara started exercising a zero-tolerance policy in enforcing Vehicle Code 23123. This is the law that prohibits people in California from using cell phones while they’re driving, unless they are doing so via hands-free technology. While driving while cell-phoning is not cited as a moving violation, the fine still ends up somewhere between $150 and $200.
It’s certainly reasonable to suppose that hands-on interactive technology would cause problems while driving. There are studies indicating that cell-phone use contributes to 25 percent of reported crashes. It could get worse: According to a study done by the Automobile Club of Southern California over the past 20 months, texting has doubled. The California Highway Patrol invited The Independent to ride along last Thursday, October 14, for a first-hand view of how the CHP is beginning to further enforce the hands-free law.
Officer Charles Hodgdon most graciously welcomes this intern into his mobile office, and we head toward Isla Vista. We’re stuck on Los Carneros at the Hollister light, recalling our days (separated by a decade) in Isla Vista, when Officer Hodgdon flips a U-turn on a red light. Bam, our first bust! I could get used to being an officer of the law.
It’s a white work truck with cabinets in the truck bed, and tools neatly organized throughout the remaining space of the bed. We pull it over into the closest parking lot. “You have to take them off the defensive right away,” Hodgdon explains to me as we get out of the patrol car.
“Talking to your boss?”
“What,” Hodgdon jokingly asks, “you haven’t got a blue-tooth yet?”
At this point, the driver is not sure what to do. Clearly, Hodgdon’s kind demeanor has thrown him off. We go back to the patrol car, write the ticket, and head back to the car, and Hodgdon lets the driver know of a few easy ways to avoid a ticket: One: Pull over and pick up the call. Two: Invest in a Bluetooth or hands-free cord. Or three (generally the most difficult option): Wait.
Before we even get into I.V. we see another worker on his cell phone. Working for a large cable provider in town, the man was probably just responding to the many calls one can imagine go down in Isla Vista. But besides calling 911 in an emergency, it doesn’t matter how good a reason you have for talking, texting, or surfing the Web while driving; if you’re using your hands to do it, you’re subject to getting pulled over and cited.
“What is most difficult to get past is the fact that the younger generation, mainly teenagers, have grown up with this technology and will find it difficult to change their habits,” Hodgdon explains. “This is all for safety. That’s why I have a job. I’m a watch guard.” He speaks proudly of his wife, who is also a public servant, a teacher at a local boy’s camp.
After citing a couple cars for going over 80 mph, a little north of Goleta, we returned to Turnpike to get back to the CHP station. A classic sky-blue Chevy truck was stuck on the off-ramp.
But as nice as Officer Hodgdon is, and as fun as he is to talk to, he’d rather not have to pull you over. He said he hopes to modify people’s behavior so they learn to drive and get wherever they are going, safely.