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Distracted Drivers: A Sidewalk Survey

We've all seen people talking on their handsets while driving, even though it's been against the law in California for more than a year.

The CHP has issued more than 110,000 citations to violators since the cell phone law went into effect in July of 2008. The law allows the use of a hands-free device, but makes it a violation to talk directly into the handset. Another law, banning texting, went into effect at the beginning of this year.

To get a handle on how many people are still chatting away on their handsets, my colleague Brian Frank joined me on the sidewalk for a brief, and only vaguely scientific experiment. We spent a half-hour observing cars at the corner where Hollywood and Sunset converge with Hillhurst.

Our Methodolgy
We stationed ourselves on opposite sides of Sunset. Then, we counted ALL the cars that passed by for a period of two minutes. We multiplied that number by fifteen to arrive at an estimate of how many cars would go by in a half hour.

Traffic Estimate
116 cars (in two minutes) * 15 = 1740 cars per half hour

Then we began our half-hour observation. We tried to count everyone we could see talking on a handset, dialing or texting, or talking on a hands-free device.

The Results
We counted a total of 46 drivers using mobile devices. Here's the breakdown.

  • Talking On Handset - - 25
  • Talking on Headset - - 13
  • Dialing or Texting - - - - 8

So, are our results surprising? Maybe. Maybe not. In our brief count, we spotted less than 3% of all drivers using a phone. But two-thirds of the folks we did spot using phones were doing so illegally - either texting, dialing or talking directly into the handset.

A Few Observations
We spotted two tow truck drivers talking on their handsets, and one guy working an iPhone in an AT&T van. And a lot of additional distracted driver behavior. There were people smoking cigarettes and talking on their handheld. There were drivers who were eating, drinking coffee or putting on make-up. And we almost certainly missed some drivers who may have been talking or texting; it's tough to get a visual bead on everyone going by, and if there was any doubt about whether are driver was actually using their phone, we didn't count them.

How does all this square up with your experience? Do you often see folks violating the cell phone laws? Got any pictures? If so, let us know in a comment, or send us a note at

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