STANISLAUS COUNTY — Just in case drivers didn't get the message the first time, law enforcement agencies throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley are cracking down on distracted driving.
The concerted effort marks the second of three "high visibility enforcement periods" funded by a federal grant. The first took place late last year.
Police in Newman issued the following warning: "Talking, texting and any activity that resembles the previous will result in a citation. Sorry, no warnings from Distracted Driver enforcement officers."
In the original crackdown, which ran from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9, officers caught nearly 3,000 drivers breaking cell phone laws. Modesto police alone wrote 176 tickets: 132 for talking on a phone and 44 for texting.
The current push started Monday and runs through March 10 and includes 37 police departments and the California Highway Patrol.
Police recommend drivers use a hands-free device or, preferably, wait until they get where they're going to make or take a call.
"Distracted driving is one of the most dangerous actions you can take on our roadways," state Office of Traffic Safety Director Christopher J. Murphy said in a news release. "Hand-held talking or texting on a cell phone while driving will no longer be tolerated."
First-time offenders will get a $150 ticket, with the cost rising to $279 for drivers caught a second time.
Officials said the crackdown is necessary because the number of distracted driving deaths nationally continues to increase: In 2011, 3,331 people died and 400,000 were injured. That same year, California recorded more than 475,000 convictions for hand-held cell phone usage and texting.
The Office of Traffic Safety offers drivers the following tips:
Turn off your phone and put it out of reach while driving.
Include in your outgoing message that you can't answer while you are driving.
Don't call or text anyone at a time when you think he or she may be driving.