In a worrying trend, more California drivers are using their cell phones while driving this year than last, according to a study released this week by state officials.
The study, conducted by the state Office of Traffic Safety and the University of California at Berkeley Safe Transportation Research and Education Center, centers on observations of driver behavior.
Researchers this year observed 9.2 percent of drivers using their cell phone. That marks a 39 percent increase from 2014, when 6.6 percent of drivers were seen using their cell phones, but remains lower than the all time high of 10.8 percent recorded in 2012, officials said.
Law enforcement agencies ticketed more than 46,000 drivers in California for driving while using a cell phone in April during Distracted Driving Awareness Month. That amount is around twice the number ticketed in an average month.
Fewer tickets were issued this year for talking on the phone using a hand-held device, but tickets for the even-more-dangerous practice of texting while driving increased 35 percent, officials said. Texting can take a driver's eyes off the road for an average of five seconds, long enough to travel the length of a football field, officials said.
"It's shocking that nearly 10 percent of motorists were observed using their cell phones while driving a motor vehicle, a potentially-lethal combination," Office of Traffic Safety Director Ronda Craft said. "We will continue our aggressive public outreach campaign and our partnership with law enforcement to educate the public about the dangers of those who drive distracted and put the lives of others at risk."