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Despite law, many text while driving

AAA study says motorists felt safer in years past
By: Julie Eng Journal Correspondent
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Cell phones are everywhere these days – including in drivers’ hands. In spite of state law, many still use handheld cell phones while driving. Texting – which usually requires looking at the cell phone – can be particularly dangerous. In 2008 the state passed legislation that made the use of handheld cell phones illegal while driving, and since January the California Highway Patrol has been pulling over drivers for reading texts and e-mails on their phones. Though these new laws were intended to protect drivers and make roads safer, an AAA study found that many people feel less safe driving today than they have in the past. Most Auburn-area residents interviewed Downtown on Thursday agree. “It’s too distracting,” said Lisa McCuistion, 40. “When you’re texting you have to physically look down, and you never know what’s in front of you.” Despite the survey results showing a general agreement that handheld cell phone use while driving is reckless, the study also found that many admit to texting while driving themselves. Sierra College student Kassie Lopez, 18, is one of those who recognize the importance of the law, but still find themselves reaching for their phones while behind the wheel. “Texting while driving is incredibly dangerous, because you’re distracted and not paying attention to your surroundings, but it’s so convenient,” Lopez said. “It’s easy to think that because I haven’t crashed yet, I won’t. I suppose it’ll take a lot of serious accidents to make people stop.” It is a lack of data from actual collisions that groups like AAA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cite as a major cause of the lack of adherence to the law, even by those who recognize its importance. Though evidence of the danger of cell phone use while driving has been published in controlled studies, there is still a lack of statistics based on real accidents. Critics of the law point out that cell phone use is one among many causes of driver distraction, most of which are still legal, like eating, drinking, putting on makeup, and changing CDs or radio stations. Sarah Naugle, 19, said attempting to avoid detection while texting makes the law itself dangerous. “I think looking out for cops while typing and driving is more of a hazard than quickly looking down at your phone,” Naugle said. “For the most part people are good at multi-tasking, but there are some people who just make mistakes. They’ll find something to distract themselves with, if it’s not a cell phone then it’s something else.”