Drivers who talk and text on their cell phones will be targeted by Santa Monica police starting Jan. 1.
The 's Traffic Enforcement division will focus on different illegal driving behaviors each month throughout 2012, starting with cell phones, it announced Wednesday.
The new enforcement tack comes in the wake of an elderly Los Angeles man dying after being hit by a distracted driver this summer at Montana Avenue and 26th Street. The female driver—a Santa Monica resident who might face misdemeanor charges—was using her cell phone, Santa Monica Police Department Sgt. Richard Lewis said.
The victim, 82-year-old William Howard Smerling, died a month after the woman struck him the morning of July 20 as he walked to the nearby Bank of America from his dry cleaning business, , according to Lewis.
Cell phone use while driving is an epidemic, he said.
"We get a lot of complaints," Lewis said. "People call us and complain and they want us to go out there and fine these people."
The California ban on talking on handheld cell phones while driving, one of the first in the nation, went into effect in 2008. Texting was outlawed in 2009.
Tickets come with a $20 fine for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. The true cost of a ticket is much higher, between $100 and $200 with court fees and other other penalties.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A VIOLATION?A person (of any age) holding a cell phone in his/her hand and using the speaker phone, or as is most commonly seen, holding the cell phone to the ear (whether on speaker phone or not), would constitute a violation of 23123(a). Juveniles are not allowed to use cell phones at all while driving with or without an ear piece, whether or not on speaker phone. Drivers can not "write, send, or read a text-based communication," which means using an electronic wireless communications device to manually communicate with any person using a text-based communication method, including, but not limited to: communications referred to as a text message, instant message or electronic mail. Scrolling for a name or phone number in a cell phone or entering a phone number does not constitute texting.