Confirmed: We gossipy, chronically plugged-in Southern Californians are pretty terrible about driving under the influence of smart phones.

New numbers from March [big ugly HTML doc] show that 9.8 percent of SoCal drivers are tinkering with their handheld devices behind the wheel, a crime that California Office of Traffic Safety Director Christopher J. Murphy calls a “serious threat to safety on our roadways.”

Compare that to 9 percent nationwide, as reported by City News Service. Tsk, tsk. But guess which California region is even naughtier?

Those would be the CenCal hicks, clocking in at a whopping 12 percent. Damn. We're not even mad — that's amazing.

Of course, their surging cellphone violations could also be a product of hawklike rural traffic cops being able to pull over more perpitrators than bogged-down city cops. Come on — what percent of the 405 in crazy 7 a.m. traffic is checking their news feed? (Not us, but like, probably everyone else.) There's no way the CHP and LAPD could track down every last one of them.

It's a pretty controversial process in the first place: How can police determine whether someone was even doing something illegal, or just sort of looking down at a missed call, checking on their music stream, etc?

Taking that into account, here are the rough figures for California as a whole:

  • 2.7 percent were talking into a handheld phone, either at their ear or in their hand.
  • 4.7 percent were talking into a visible Bluetooth or headset on their right ear. [Ed note: Not illegal, but officers still consider this part of the “distracted driving” figure.]
  • 1.7 percent were texting or otherwise manipulating a mobile device.

NorCal's numbers bring the California average almost all the way down to the national one: Only 6.9 percent of Northerners are distracted drivers. What a bunch of squares, right? Maybe that's why the SF Weekly blog doesn't have a new freeway death to report every morning like we do…

From the Traffic Safety report:

“We have to get a handle on this problem now, before it gets completely out of hand,” said Murphy. “It worked with seat belts, with California now over 96 percent usage. Parents and businesses can set the example.”

Distracted driving is a serious traffic safety concern in California, joining alcohol and speeding as leading factors in fatal and serious injury crashes. While all distractions can endanger drivers' safety, texting is the most dangerous since it involves multiple types of distraction. Dialing and texting can take a driver's eyes from the roadway for five to ten seconds, while most crashes have less than three seconds reaction time.

So take the safe route, and enjoy the scenery in lieu of your Twitter feed. You never know when a raving naked guy will run by — and you wouldn't want to miss that.


LA Weekly