Fortuna police patrolling for distracted drivers

As part of April's Distracted Driving Awareness Month campaign, the Fortuna Police Department will be actively ticketing those texting or operating hand-held cell phones on April 16, according to a press release.

The current minimum ticket is $159, with subsequent tickets costing at least $279. Last April, more than 57,000 tickets were written statewide for texting and hand-held cell use. There were nearly 450,000 convictions in 2012.

Distracted driving is a serious traffic safety concern that puts everyone on the road at risk. In recent years, hundreds have been killed and thousands seriously injured in California as a result of collisions that involved at least one driver who was distracted, officials said. Nationally, an estimated 3,331 died in 2011.

As a result, law enforcement across the state, including the Fortuna Police Department, are increasingly cracking down on cell phone use and texting.

"We all know that talking on our cell phones while driving is distracting, but that doesn't stop some people from continuing to do it," said Fortuna Police Department Chief William Dobberstein in the release. "This effort is intended to educate our community about the dangers of cell phone use while driving. We hope that once people see the statistics and realize the danger involved, they will change their driving habits to help protect themselves, their families, and others on the road."

Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. Younger, inexperienced drivers under 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. In addition, studies show that texting while driving can delay a driver's reaction time just as severely as having a blood alcohol content of a legally drunk driver.

Studies also show that there is no difference in the risks between hands-free and hand-held cell phone conversations, both of which can result in "inattention blindness" -- which occurs when the brain isn't seeing what is clearly visible because the drivers' focus is on the phone conversation. When over one-third of brain functioning that should be focused on driving moves over to cell phone talking, drivers can become a cell phone "zombie."

To avoid a distracted driving ticket or crash, the Fortuna Police Department offers drivers the following tips:

* Turn off your phone and/or 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 they may be driving