SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The number of California drivers using cellphones is rising, as are deaths and injuries blamed on distracted driving, state officials said Wednesday.
However, the number of tickets issued by the California Highway Patrol has substantially declined, as have distracted driving convictions statewide by all law enforcement agencies, according to information provided to The Associated Press.
At least 12.8 percent of drivers were seen using mobile devices during a survey earlier this year, the California Office of Traffic Safety reported.
That's up from 9.2 percent last year and exceeds the previous high of 10.8 percent in 2013.
The increase isn't surprising because the number of smartphones surged from none a decade ago to more than 200 million nationwide today, said Rhonda Craft, the office's director.
"They have become so much a part of our lives that we can't put them down, even when we know the danger," she said in a statement.
The number of California drivers killed or injured in crashes in which distracted driving was a factor increased each of the last three years, from 10,162 to 11,090 last year.
Yet the number of citations written by the CHP for texting or using hand-held devices dropped from nearly 168,000 in 2012 to about 91,000 last year.
Convictions statewide by all law enforcement agencies dropped from a high of more than 476,000 in 2011 to about 269,000 last year, according to the Office of Traffic Safety.
"People have realized they're being watched and so they're more on the lookout," spokesman Chris Cochran said. Many local agencies also have fewer officers patrolling the roads because of layoffs during the Great Recession, he said.
The CHP wrote 13,496 tickets for distracted driving violations during the survey period in April, during National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. But that was a 27 percent decrease from April 2015.
"Our primary aim is to raise awareness and try to get voluntary compliance," said CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader.
The CHP had more than 300 educational presentations in April, while the Office of Traffic Safety had a social media campaign urging drivers to Silence the Distraction.
However, "anytime an officer observes someone driving distracted they can take action and they often do, because they understand the danger," Clader said. That can include warnings as well as citations.
There has been no change in CHP's policy or emphasis in citing drivers for violations, she said.
"It only takes a minute of inattention before someone can get hurt or worse," Clader said. "Obviously with the advent of the mobile devises and the exploding popularity of them, people think they can talk on the phone and text while they're driving. They may get away with it a number of times, but it's just a matter of time before they get in a collision."