A hands-on sting

LOS ANGELES — Police efforts earlier this month to go after motorists talking or texting on hand-held cell phones yielded 714 citations in Los Angeles County, officials said Thursday.

Authorities made the announcement during a safe-driving promotional event that featured an obstacle course at Dodger Stadium.

California Highway Patrol stations throughout the county cited 494 drivers on Oct. 5 for various distracted-driving violations, including texting and talking while driving, Southern Division Chief Steve Beeuwsaert.

"Put the phones down," he said. "Put the food down. Put the makeup down and drive."

Twelve other participating law enforcement agencies, including the Glendale Police Department, cited 220 drivers for similar distracted driving violations that same day, which was dedicated to cracking down on inattentive motorists.

Glendale police officers cited 61 motorists for talking and texting on a cell phone and for unsafe speeding while being distracted, Glendale Sgt. Dennis Smith said.

The distracted-drivers campaign was created to address concerns about the ongoing use of hand-held cell phones while driving and reduce the number of distracted-driving-related collisions, Beeuwsaert said.

Glendale police are planning to participate in another distracted-driver enforcement sting on Oct. 26.

Glendale Police Officer Ben Bateman said he has spotted several drivers texting when stopped at a red light. When the light turns green, Bateman said he stops and cites the motorist.

"Oftentimes, you'll see their heads down, and their hands are off the wheel as I am coming up behind them," Bateman said.

Motorists, he said, generally argue that they weren't driving and texting because they were stopped at the red light.

"That's a misperception people have, that they are in the car and if the car is not in motion while they are still in a traffic lane, that they should be texting," Glendale Police Lt. Carl Povilaitis said.

More than 30,000 people in 2008 were involved in traffic collisions in which distracted driving was a factor, Beeuwsaert said. Of those drivers, more than 1,200 motorists were using a cell phone during the collisions, he added.

Of the 1,200 drivers, 13 motorists were killed, he said.

"That's 13 less fathers and mothers," Beeuwsaert said. "Thirteen less husbands and wives, friends and co-workers."

Family members of Jacob Hefter, who was one of 25 passengers killed in the 2008 Metrolink train crash in Chatsworth, urged drivers to put their cell phones down and pay attention to the roads while driving.

Metrolink 111 engineer Robert Sanchez, a La Crescenta resident, had sent and received text messages from his cell phone just seconds before the train collided with a southbound Union Pacific freighter on Sept. 12, 2008, according to federal investigators.

The ban, which went into effect in 2008, applies only to holding the device; Bluetooth and other hands-free devices are still permitted. Fines range from $120 to $150.

Since the ban was implemented, CHP officers have cited more than 244,000 motorists, he said.

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