Law isn't keeping drivers off their phones

Law isn't keeping drivers off their phones
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Despite a law making it illegal for drivers to talk or text on their cell phones, that activity can be found almost everywhere.

When the hands-free law first passed in California in July 2008, it seems like most obeyed, but driving around town two years later tells a much different story.

Eyewitness News did a ride along with the Bakersfield Police Department's Traffic Unit and saw some of the challenges officers face trying to enforce the law.

Officer Santiago Baltazar said when riding in a patrol car drivers can see the car further away and put down their cell phones. He also added that in a car it's harder to catch up to somebody because of traffic and stop lights. That's why Baltazar prefers riding on his motorcycle.

He recalled one instance when he pulled up right next to driver who was on her cell phone, "They were just talking away I ended up knocking on the window to get her attention, that I was next to her." He then pulled her over and gave her a ticket.

Even though Baltazar sees drivers breaking the hands-free law every day, he said another reason why they may not get stopped is because there are other higher priority crimes happening that officers have to respond to.

But it is everywhere, in the four hours we spent with Baltazar he pulled over almost a dozen vehicles for breaking the hands-free law.

One woman he pulled over was Sophie Soza, who actually has a Bluetooth but wasn't using it, we asked why. "Was in a rush, I don't know," said Soza, "My Bluetooth was actually right here and I couldn't reach over and find it."

Turns out she wasn't getting a call from someone, but a text message.

Eyewitness News asked the other drivers caught breaking the law, who they were talking to and what was so important.

James Tozzi said, "A good friend of mine who has some problems."

Olivia Sanchez was talking to her husband. "We were talking about personal stuff," she said.

Sarah Schindler was taking a call for work. "With my job I kind of can't turn down the call. It's worth the ticket I guess."

But most of the offending drivers agreed the calls could wait.

"I was calling my aunt to let her know I was going to be there for dinner tonight," said Melanie Frank.

Even though Domenic Webby was also taking a work call he said, "It's an old habit."

Emily Falke said she doesn't normally talk on her phone while driving but picked up when her daughter kept calling her long distance. Even so, Falke admitted, "I picked it up; I shouldn't of."

While you think the ticket, which ends up costing drivers about $150, would be incentive to put the phone down Baltazar says think again.

"I've had it to where you get (the same person) twice in one hour," he said. "You leave your spot come around and they get back on it."

Though the drivers who were pulled over during our ride-along said getting caught was a big wake up call.

Webby said he wasn't as surprised to see the officer, but rather the Eyewitness News camera that was filming him while he talked. "I go you know how much more does God want to get my attention saying what you're doing is wrong," he said.

"Him at least stopping me will now make me think about doing it again," said Frank.

Even though Falke was taking a family she said, "Oh I'm not answering it again, I don't care how many times it rings."

And Sanchez simply said, "I'm just not going to talk on the phone. It's not worth it. Lesson learned."

While law is doing something to have drivers think twice before picking up their cell phones, more could be coming.

Currently, there is a senate bill being worked on that would make the hands-free law even tougher in California.

Changes include making it illegal for bicycle riders to be on a cell phone. The DMV would have a test on the dangers of using a cell phone while driving when getting a license. Fines would be raised, and $10 from each fine would go toward a special education program on the dangers of distracted driving.