This may come as a shocker to many Californians, but fewer motorists appear to be using hand-held cellphones as they drive along state highways and city streets.
In a survey released Wednesday by the Office of Traffic Safety, the percentage of drivers using cellphones -- hand-held or hands free -- has fallen from 10.8 percent in 2012 to 7.4 percent this year. The largest drop, 33 percent, was from those holding a cellphone to their ear in violation of state law.
But at the same time, the number of motorists who take their eyes off the road when texting rose to 2.5 percent from 1.7 percent. While that may not seem like a lot, safety officials warn it is a troubling trend especially since it is harder to detect a texting driver who often will hold their phone in their lap and out of sight.
"It's discouraging to see that texting is still significantly higher than in 2011," said OTS spokesman Chris Cochran.
The Highway Patrol and 250 police departments across the state issued 57,000 cellphone tickets in April during the annual monthly crackdown. That is the same number as a year ago and 21,000 more than the 36,000 issued in a typical month.
Another 3,500 citations were handed out for other types of distracted driving violations last month.
The survey involved sending teams of watchers to highway offramps and intersections in 17 counties from February through April. They observed 6,099 drivers and attempted to judge their cellphone use.
The study admits the results are likely the low-end indicators because of the short, limited view observers had of whether a driver was using a phone, especially for texting.
But California gets top accolades for its efforts to stem the dangers distracted drivers pose.
"California continues to be a model in distracted-driving education and enforcement," said Jonathan Aidkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association. "No other state is so consistently and thoroughly addressing this problem.
"Based on our experiences with the high-visibility enforcement model being employed in California, we'd expect hand-held use to be declining. ... But just as we saw with seat belts and drunk driving, it will take some time for a broad cultural change to occur in which using a cellphone while driving is rarely seen."
Walter Brem, of El Cerrito, says he sees fewer people using their cellphones but isn't ready to say the problem has greatly eased.
"I see a lot of people in my rearview mirror and in front of me with their heads down," he said. "Now what can that suggest?"
And Keith Thompson, of Newark, when asked if he thought fewer people were distracted by their cellphones replied emphatically: "No!"
"For many people the cellphone becomes the center of their attention," he added. "Not good while driving a car."
Alameda County Sgt. Tom Rodrigues issued seven cellphone tickets on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday -- one to a woman who was arguing with her husband via texts.
"People are not getting the clue," Rodrigues said. "Both cellphone use and texting are still a big problem. Even with all the (citations) written, people still don't get it. This is in epidemic proportion as of late. People are still talking and texting, like never before."
Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.
Put your cell phone out of reach or turn it off when you get in the car so you won't be tempted to use it.
Mention on your outgoing voice mail message that you can't answer because you might be driving.
Don't call or text anyone when there is a good chance that they may be driving.
If you must call or text, pull into a parking space.
Never check Facebook, run an app, read or otherwise allow your full attention to leave the task of safely driving.
Source: Office of Traffic Safety