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Police sting shows focus not a top priority for many motorists

If they wanted to both figuratively and literally drive home a point and central safety message concerning distracted driving, they did precisely that.

No question: mission accomplished.

In fact, it was ridiculously easy for undercover police officers in one California community to recently snare a number of motorists engaged in the act of texting while driving, which is a flat taboo under state law and enforceable as a primary offense (that is, a ticket-meriting offense on its own, without officers needing to pull over a motorist for some other infraction first).

Here's what they did: They simply stood on freeway ramps holding signs. Virtually no driver paid any attention to them at all, with a number of motorists texting right in front of them.

One media story puts a panhandling slant on the sting operation, but the effect -- motorists' lack of attention and resulting arrests in high numbers -- would have been the same had the officers written their signs in pure gibberish. In fact, their messages conveyed that that they were police officers looking for texters.

Which they found. One officer said that only one motorist out of more than a dozen stopped appeared to have even looked at the sign he was holding.

The ruse was optimally effective and efficient, with 50 citations being handed out within a three-hour period.

The website DMV.ORG sets forth California laws regarding texting while driving, noting information that some readers might find a bit surprising, namely this: Although texting is illegal all across the state and without exceptions, the fines that are explicitly associated with it are not particularly significant. A first offense brings a $20 fine, with a subsequent citation jumping to $50.

However, the site notes that "after penalty assessments are weighed in, fines could actually more than triple."

That potential for materially ratcheted-up costs might wake up a few distracted drivers.

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