Highway patrol officers wrapped up a two-day crack down on distracted drivers yesterday, stepping up enforcement of “hands-free” cell phone law.

In an effort to increase compliance with the law, the two-day Zero Tolerance Campaign was part of a statewide effort to catch drivers using cell phones without a hands-free headset. SBHP teamed up with their counterparts in Buellton and Santa Maria as well as other local authorities to enforce the driving laws enacted in 2008.

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A Santa Barbara Highway Patrol car sits idle at the Santa Barbara station, having concluded a two-day campaign held by county officers to catch drivers on the phone.

According to Santa Barbara Highway Patrol Officer Charles Hodgdon, the campaign was held in response to a noticeable lack of obedience to the law.

“They are realizing that the compliance is just not there and that a lot of these crashes are being attributed to cell phones,” Hodgdon said. “So they want to crack down.”

Hodgdon said he has witnessed an especially high number of violations on local roads and highways in the county.

“It depends on the time of day,” Hodgdon said. “But I can sit there on San Ysidro Road and it is like shooting fish in a barrel. Every fourth car is a moving violation.”

According to the CHP-Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, when the hands-free law was implemented in 2008, there were more than 30,000 accidents attributed to distracted drivers. Over 1,000 of those drivers admitted that a cell phone was the cause of their lack of attention, making cell phones the number one cause of collisions from inattention that year.

Despite the continued high rates of violation, public information officer Jeremy Wayland said he believes the law is having a positive impact.

“The law has been effective,” Wayland said. “But it is just like the speeding law; there are people who obey, and those who take their chances.”

The “hands-free” cell phone law is part of a larger category of distracted driving violations that includes anything from applying make-up while driving, to adjusting the GPS in your car while on the road. The current fine for a first time violation is $156. According to Officer Wayland, each SBHP officer issues three to four cell phone tickets each day and an another one or two texting violations.

Wayland said he hopes the campaign will send a clear message to drivers in the area.

“We combined our efforts with other law enforcement authorities to make sure people know that distracted driving is not okay,” Wayland said. “That is why we made these two days maximum effort.”

The SBHP is also looking increase traffic enforcement in Isla Vista.

Hodgdon said he patrols Isla Vista frequently because it is an easy place to cite people for traffic violations.

“A lot of times I just sit here on the corner of Embarcadero del Norte and Picasso because it is an easy spot for me to get violations,” Hodgdon said.

Hodgdon also said there has been talk of changing the law from an infraction to a moving violation, increasing the fine and adding a strike to driving records.

“Right now it is a small fine,” Hodgdon said. “But if they change it to a $400 fine, I do not think you will see too many people on their cell phone. Sometimes compliance comes from getting hit in the pocket book, which stinks, but I know it worked for me.”