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Rohnert Park Police: "We Take Texting and Driving Very Seriously"

Patch caught up with the Department of Public Safety's traffic supervisor on a recent day to find out what police are doing to cut down on distracted driving.

Police are seeing an uptick in distracted driving in Rohnert Park, but the department's 27 patrol officers are spread thin. One result of months of heated labor negotiations is a 12-hour work day instead of 10. , and just two assigned specifically to traffic.

Sgt. Jason Krauss, the city's traffic supervisor, said although the department doesn't have the resources right now to conduct focused stings ticketing drivers for texting or talking on the phone while driving, enforcing distracted driving laws and educating the public on the dangers of cell phone use behind the wheel is a priority for the city's force.

On regular patrol, police regularly scan motorists in search of drivers who might be looking down at their lap, apparently texting, or who are blantantly talking on the phone.

"Our day revolves around public community service — keeping the city safe, responding to emergency calls, domestic violence situations, crimes in progress, connecting with local businesses, that kind of thing," said Sgt. Jason Krauss, Rohnert Park's traffic supervisor. "Recently we have noticed more cell phone use on the road."

Krauss sees it as a cultural shift.

Technology is such a big part of people's lives now, and in a lot of ways, we are using enforcement to educate people to stay off their phones when they're on the road, he said.

"It's very much like the shift in the late '60s and '70s that taught people about how dangerous it is to drink and drive, Krauss added.

In 2010, Rohnert Park police wrote less tickets for traffic violations than the previous year, according a June article published in the Press Democrat, something the department attributed to staffing shortages. Data was unavailable to track cell phone violations historically, but statistics released this summer show the department wrote 143 tickets between January and June 2011.

A  conducted in late September tallied 32 people texting or talking on the phone while driving in a one-hour period, between two busy intersections.

Krauss said the department is currently seeking grant funding to conduct specific distracted driving stings, but in the interim, police are ramping up traffic enforcement in school zones — especially between Rancho Cotate High School and Lawrence E. Jones Elementary — and in area crosswalks.

He pointed to one effort currently underway at Rohnert Park Expressway and Commerce Boulevard, where the department has received a rash of complaints about drivers not yeilding to pedestrians crossing the street.

"We regularly respond to citizen complaints," Krauss said.

Locally, residents are hyper-aware of the dangers of texting and driving.

The on Dec. 1, 2010 by Sonoma State student , hit this community hard.

Citizens showed up in droves at City Council meetings following the tragedy to protest unsafe pedestrian crossings, local moms put together an ad hoc traffic enforcement team and at the intersection of before and after school, where Ling and Calli Murray were crossing when they were struck, and the city subsequently on Snyder Lane, and dozens of other intersections citywide.

Stay tuned to Patch this week, we'll be looking into how the Sunrise Park crossing is doing nearly a year after the fatal Murray accident. Don't miss the video to the right taken during a recent ride-along with Krauss.

Erik Wood November 02, 2011 at 09:19 PM
I think legislation has value in raising public awareness in forums like this one but it will be difficult to solely legislate our way out of this issue. I just read that 72% of teens text daily - many text more 4000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook - even with their professors. Tweens (ages 9 -12) send texts to each other from their bikes. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and its not going away. I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens) I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. It also silences call ringtones while driving unless you have a bluetooth enabled. I think if we can empower the individual then change will come to our highways now and not just our laws. Erik Wood, owner OTTER LLC OTTER app
Angela Hart November 03, 2011 at 04:30 PM
Thanks for your input Guy and Erik. I'm just curious how often you see people on their phones while driving. Interested to hear what other people are seeing...
Leah Swinney November 04, 2011 at 09:02 PM
Technology is the problem and technology can solve the problem. Teens are losing their lives from distracted driving with mobile phones. Cellcontrol is the best solution I have found. With Cellcontrol (www.cellcontrol.com) parents have the ability to set rules on what a phone can and cannot do when a car is moving. Texting and driving is eliminated. Cellcontrol is the worlds most advanced technology to solve this problem utilizing a signal directly from your vehicle to determine movement ensures you are only blocked in YOUR vehicle(s) not while a passenger in another vehicle like GPS based solutions. This technology will save lives!
Guy Thompson November 05, 2011 at 05:24 PM
I see it all the time. A hundred tickets a day would not put a dent in it. People are just narcissists and only their world exists. A ticket is not going to change the human nature causing this problem. Before cell phones it was changing a CD causing accidents, before that it was changing a tape and before that changing a channel on the radio. There's always an excuse and our society just seems to buy it because we're all guilty. Even the woman who killed a kid didn't get punished much and the City's deep pocket is getting sued because they supposedly didn't do enough to prevent someone from behaving badly. As long as the lame excuses are accepted in society, the problem will persist.
Guy Thompson November 05, 2011 at 05:33 PM
Save the technology expense and raise your kids with a proper respect for right and wrong. They have to make the choices on their own when you're not there. As long as a parent has done their best and set a good example, they can be confident in their own kids choices in the future. For the most parts, parents have abandoned the role as teacher of right and wrong and personal responsibility. Texting while driving is just a minor symptom. There are a lot of worse consequences going on because of the abdication of parents raising their kids properly. You never hear about the good kids either, so there is little reward in society for being a good parent.

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