MODESTO -- Modesto police ranked among the top five agencies in the region in ticket writing during a recent campaign to stop distracted driving.
Nearly 3,000 drivers were caught breaking cell phone laws during a crackdown in Stanislaus County and dozens of other police jurisdictions throughout Northern California, authorities reported this week. The crackdown was from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9.
"We are committed to saving lives on area roadways, and drivers should expect to continue to see officers enforcing cell phone driving laws time and time again," said state Office of Traffic Safety Director Chris Murphy.
California was one of two states to receive grants for high-visibility pilot programs to squelch motorists' hand-held cell phone use and texting. Delaware also was selected by the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to mount a pilot project.
The California program, dubbed "Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other," was conducted in eight counties with 3.8 million residents in an area that ranged from Mo- desto to Marysville and Vallejo to South Lake Tahoe.
The top five police agencies writing tickets were: California Highway Patrol, 404 tickets; Roseville, 292; Sacramento, 231; Stockton, 195; and Modesto, 176. Of the local 176 tickets, 132 were for talking on a phone and 44 were for texting.
Some of the offending motorists were obvious in their distracted driving: Vacaville police stopped a motorist whose vehicle was straddling two lanes. She was trying to order concert tickets from her cell phone while driving.
Modesto CHP officer Marcos Rivera pulled over one woman after spotting her with her phone up to her ear. She told Rivera she wasn't talking to anyone on her smart phone, she was listening to music. Rivera wrote her a ticket.
Many people try to evoke the emergency phone call exception to the law, but often are called on it, said Modesto police Sgt. Craig Breckenridge.
One man told Breckenridge he was on the phone with his bank, which was about to foreclose on his home. Another said he had to pick up his mother at hospice. It turned out she wasn't being cared for by hospice, she worked there, Breckenridge said.
Drivers caught talking on a cell phone or texting receive a ticket costing a minimum of $159 for a first offense. A second offense costs a minimum of $279.
The crackdown was the first of at least three maximum enforcement periods in the pilot program. The state got $600,000 from the federal government to finance the effort.
The next maximum enforcement period will occur Feb. 25 through March 10.
The California effort is similar to smaller-scale pilot projects in Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y., in 2011. Last year's programs in those cities resulted in texting dropping 72 percent in Hartford and 32 percent in Syracuse, according to a state traffic safety news release.