More Americans depend on their smartphones in their cars for directions, music, podcasts, and to communicate via text or by phone. That dependence so often leads to distracted drivers. But if newly released citation numbers from the city of San Diego are any indication, the problem of distracted driving has improved, not worsened as it has in previous years.
Public records obtained in a records act request, shows from January 1, 2019 to September 30, 2019, San Diego Police Officers issued 3,509 tickets for distracted driving, the vast majority, 2,696, for sending text messages while behind the wheel.
And while the number is significant, it is the lowest number of tickets during January through October since 2015.
During the first 10 months of 2015, police officers in San Diego issued 5553 distracted driving tickets, 1349 of which were for sending texts while driving and the remainder for talking on the phone without a hands-free device. Fines for distracted driving can cost as much as $400 for each offense.
That number dipped during the same months in 2016 to 3995, one-third of which was for text messaging while driving.
In 2017 the number spiked to the highest annual 7,158. During the first 10 months of 2018, officers wrote 6,891 distracted driving citations, 5,000 of which for sending text messages.
And while fewer citations are getting handed out, the locations of the tickets remain constant.
Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach remains the top location in San Diego for Distracted driving tickets.
From January 1 of this year through October 1, officers wrote 249 tickets to drivers on Garnet Avenue. The next highest location was Linda Vista with 175 tickets followed by El Cajon Boulevard. Clairemont Mesa and Balboa Avenue finished out the top five streets in terms of citations with 146 and 106 respectively.
Jennifer Hyler helps run Petals by the Beach, a family flower shop on the corner of Garnet Avenue and Haines Street. Hyler says she watches countless drivers staring at their phones instead of the road throughout the day,
“I see people on their cell phones constantly,” Hyler told NBC 7. “I see people driving really fast trying to make the red light. I see people turning on red lights. I've seen people get hit by a car.”
Hyler is not surprised to hear that Garnet Avenue is the most ticketed location for distracted driving.
“I see it all day, everyday,” said Hyler. “I once saw someone run a red light and hit a girl on a bike, dragging her across the intersection. I try to avoid Garnet at all costs for that reason alone. And, I live in Pacific Beach. I work on Garnet and I will drive around so I'm not on Garnet."
San Diego Police Lieutenant Shawn Takeuchi says while the numbers seem encouraging, he says it's important to note that the decrease could mean fewer patrols in those areas.