Though 2010 marked the first annual Distracted Driving Awareness Month, California did not participate in an official capacity. So this year, California is making an impact with a statewide crackdown on distracted driving. About 225 local police agencies will team up with the California Highway Patrol to implement 103 CHP Area Commands and a “zero-tolerance policy” against offenders. A first-time offence carries a $20 fine, but with additional charges, the economic damage can reach over $200. So during Distracted Driving Awareness Month this April, remember to be safe and avoid distracted driving, or your wallet could regret it.

Citing the nearly 6,000 people killed and 500,000 injured in distracted driving car accidents in 2009, California Senator Joe Simitian has introduced legislation to increase the penalty for distracted drivers. Simitian says steady enforcement of distracted driving laws will have a significant long term effect on California drivers. “Enacting seat belt legislation, for example, took a long time. Now it’s routine that when you climb into the car, you buckle the belt,” he told me in an interview last year. “It will take time, education, and enforcement. But we’ve raised the notion that if we had a higher fine, it would be a more significant deterrent and we could save even more lives.”

Simitian says that his bill could reduce California traffic deaths by 700 each year. But critics have said that distracted driving laws have not yet been proven to reduce car accidents. And according to new information from the US Department of Transportation, 2010 had the fewest number of car accident deaths since 1948. But safety advocates like Simitian and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood point to the families that have been impacted by distracting deaths. Hearing their stories, they say, it’s impossible to say that distracted driving is not dangerous, and that 6,000 deaths per year should be accepted.

So remember to put the phone down when you’re driving California Distracted Driving Awareness Month and beyond. And while there are phone applications that screen texts and calls while you’re driving, avoid some of the more dangerous distracted driving technologies (like Facebook on your car’s dashboard). Otherwise, you could be slapped with a hefty traffic fine from the California Highway Patrol.

Photo credit: Mike Babcock

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.