Drivers scrambling to find parking spots in Santa Monica's congested downtown can now scout open spots on their cell phones—the same devices blamed for many of the city's traffic collisions.
City officials announced this week that they've launched a new "mobile-friendly parking map that provides real-time parking availability" for the 33 public downtown and beach parking garages and lots.
"The hope is that by allowing motorists to more quickly find parking, cars will spend less time on city streets and visitors can spend more time enjoying the city’s beaches, restaurants and shopping," officials said in a press release.
In January, the Santa Monica Police Department launched a campaign to crackdown on driving habits that lead to crashes, starting with handheld cell phone use.
The decision to zero in on distracted drivers came in the wake of an elderly man's death. In the fall, .
But police spokesman Richard Lewis told Patch Wednesday that there's little concern that the new parking map will make the problem worse.
"Unfortunately, cell phone usage while driving is everywhere," he said.
San Francisco introduced a similar mobile app in June, reportedly sparking concern from safety advocates who said drivers would end up focusing more on their phones than on the road.
Daniel Simons, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, who studies the science of attention, told the New York Times that it could be dangerous: “Most people are looking for parking spaces in places that have a lot of traffic and a lot of pedestrians.”
A recent survey commissioned by Santa Monica's downtown business district found that frequent visitors to downtown felt traffic and parking had gotten worse in the past three years.
Like in San Francisco, police in Santa Monica are asking drivers to pull over if they're using the mobile parking map. Even better, they say, is to ask a passenger to look at the app.
"We just need to keep the word out there, please don’t do it—it’s unsafe, it’s part of distracted driving," Lewis said.
The mobile parking map was developed in-house by city staffers and is part of a larger mobile website set to launch this spring.