Bay Area residents might want to charge up their earpieces tonight, as Tuesday will be another of the California Highway Patrol's "Hands Free" enforcement crackdowns.
Patrol officers will be out on the major roadways watching for drivers violating the state's cell phone law. Under the law, drivers are not allowed to use a cell phone unless they have an earpiece or a speakerphone on a mount so that the phone is not in the driver's hand.
"That's a common misconception we have seen," said CHP Officer Steve Creel. "You may see people with the phone on speakerphone and holding it in their hand like a walkie talkie. That is still in violation of the cell phone law."
In addition, drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use cell phones while in control of an automobile.
The law took effect July 1, 2008, and initially there was a dramatic drop-off in the number of drivers found to be in violation. However, Creel said those numbers have begun to climb again over time.
In some cases, police said the issues was just one of bad habits resurfacing. Officers have also been told by drivers that the earpieces make it hard to hear, they don't work well, or that they hurt the driver's ear so the driver went back to talking with the phone in their hand. This shift back toward previous behaviors led the CHP to schedule the enforcement actions.
On Aug. 11, the CHP carried out the first of its crackdowns on drivers violating the hands free law. Creel said during that event there were more than 300 citations given out in the Bay Area, with 53 of them issued in the I-580/I-680 corridor in the Tri-Valley.
Drivers are being warned of Tuesday's enforcement effort through the lighted signs along the freeway, as well as through the media. Creel said he is hopeful that drivers will take heed and use their earpieces while driving.
"Our goal is not to increase our enforcement numbers. Our goal is to see those enforcements drop," he explained.
He added that given the amount of attention given to the enforcement days, he was mildly surprised by the number of citations issued on the 11th.
"While it's not the way we would choose to do it,"Creel said, "it is a good reminder to modify your behavior."
Average fines for a first time offense run from $120-$150.