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Paying up for not hanging up

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More than 100 Bay Area drivers, unable to resist chatting on cell phones while driving, were cited during the first week of July after the hands-free cell phone law went into effect.

Drivers in California are not allowed to talk on cell phones without using a hands-free device. Drivers under 18 are not allowed to drive and talk on a phone at all. Across the Bay Area, California Highway Patrol officers handed out 107 tickets, compared with 621 throughout the state, CHP spokesman Trent Cross said Tuesday.

Eight citations statewide were issued to teens, though in the Bay Area, all teens have thus far obeyed the law, Cross said.

First-time fines are $20 as a base fee, but with additional court fees the ticket can range from $50 to $200 depending on the city, he said. The penalty rises to a base fee of $50 on second violation. By comparison, motorists in Washington, where a similar law went into effect recently, will have to pay $124 tickets for a first offense.

It is still too soon to tell whether drivers’ compliance has translated into fewer accidents. Data on the Bay Area accident rate for July 1-7 was not immediately available from the CHP. In 2007, however, there were seven fatal collisions caused by handheld cell phone use and 317 injury collisions, according to the CHP.

"We’re all about saving lives, and this new law is geared toward that," Cross said. "We wanted to be aggressive about enforcing it from the beginning."

Several drivers in San Francisco who spoke with The Examiner said they didn’t feel much safer on the roads.

"[On Monday] I saw a man driving and using a headset, but he had his hand up to his headset," Heidi Arciniega said. "People may be driving a little more cautiously, but it’s still the same."

Rochelle Teising said that even with a hands-free device mounted on her visor, she became caught up in a business call and was distracted from her driving.

The new law has been a boon for cell phone carriers and manufacturers, who have seen hands-free accessories fly off store shelves —even after the new law took effect.

"We really saw a jump once the CHP launched their public campaign," said Heidi Flato, spokeswoman for Verizon. "Even after July 1, we’ve seen people come in, once they realize they’re subject to fines if they don’t comply."

Most popular are the Jawbone — a Bluetooth device with a reputation for minimizing background noise — and items that clip to a car’s sun visor, Flato said. Some cell phone stores had trouble keeping up with demand.

"We were running out from time to time," AT&T Wireless spokesman John Britton said. "We were able to meet the need, but it was challenging."

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

The cost to call

If you get caught with a cell phone in your hands while driving, this is what it will cost you.

$20: base fee for first offense

$50 to $200: court fees

$70 to $220: total cost

$50: base fee for second offense

$50 to $200: court fees

$100 to $250: total cost

Source: California Highway Patrol