It seems that one Clio resident has had a focus on what he’s wanted to do with his life.
At 18 he joined the Air Force and spent six years there. At 24 he was accepted into the California Highway Patrol and went through training.
Now his focus is on getting distracted drivers off the road and educating them about state laws and what their violations could mean to themselves, their family and others.
Many CHP officers have pet things they like to spot. For some it’s getting drunk drivers off the roadway. For others it might be getting drivers to slow down. For Reid Mason it’s stopping and educating drivers using their cell phone in unapproved ways.
Since April’s observance of distracted driver month was in full swing, Mason accepted a ride-along passenger to see what he does during a normal patrol day in and around Portola.
Mason has some experience under his belt. After finishing training he was in the Los Angeles area for more than three years.
Covering traffic and highway-related incidents in LA is nothing like what it is in Plumas County. In LA, 95 percent of a shift involves handling accidents, crime and other emergency situations. “There are a lot of activities. A lot of accidents,” Mason said.
In handling that kind of activity it “takes a toll on your body — there’s constant movement.”
Mason eventually chose Plumas County and has no regrets about the decision — job wise or quality of living for his wife and three young children.
Here, 95 percent of his job is responding to moving violations and keeping drivers and citizens safe on the roadways.
Early on a Wednesday, Mason drives his unit out and chooses an obvious parking spot where he can observe traffic. It’s near the traffic lights on Gulling and Highway 70.
As Mason watches traffic go by he’s carefully watching the driver and noting the vehicle itself for any violation.
“I don’t need to hide for cell phones,” Mason said about watching for one of his pet violations. “It’s just like it said, it’s distracted driving. I can sit right here,” the CHP emblem in plain view and those on their cell phones don’t seem to notice. Why? Because they’re distracted, they don’t have both hands on the steering wheel. They’re not paying attention to what other drivers are doing or what foot traffic might be in the area.
As Mason watches he discusses what he’s looking for. There’s a driver with his hand to his face but no cell phone. There’s another driver making a gesture perhaps talking on a hands-free unit.
There’s a woman drinking a cup of coffee, but she seems to have control of her vehicle and is paying attention to the traffic around her. She just negotiated a corner with no difficulties.
“We usually associate distracted driving with cell phones,” Mason said about current lifestyles. But anything can distract a driver; maybe it’s the little dog in the lap instead of in the back seat, someone eating a hamburger or doing his or her makeup. That was a big one in LA, he said. Because people drive so much they take the opportunity to do everything they can behind the wheel. And this isn’t just a quick glance in the mirror or a handheld compact. It’s applying foundation, mascara, and eyeliner — everything with their full attention on what they’re doing to their face.
Distracted driving is doing anything that doesn’t involve the driver giving his or her full attention to driving.
While cell phones are a pet peeve, Mason understands their usefulness. He has one. When it went off suddenly, he pulled over to the side of the road into a convenient turnout before reaching for it. Although it was tucked in just under his computer, he waited until he was at a full stop and then indicated he would call the individual back later.
Although it isn’t legal for drivers in California to use a cell phone in any manner except an emergency, the California penal code does stipulate that law enforcement officers can use a cell phone while driving.
But the CHP policy throughout the state is not to use cell phones while driving. Every officer signs an agreement that he or she won’t do it. Mason believes that fair is fair. If the public can’t use a cell phone while driving, law enforcement shouldn’t be allowed to either. He said there is a motion to change that law forbidding cell phone use to anyone including law enforcement when they’re driving.
So why is Mason so determined to try to stop people from talking and texting on their cell phones while driving? He admits that he’s done it and had a few problems. Although the experiences were nothing major — his personal vehicle venturing onto the shoulder of the roadway and similar incidents — he said that was a wake up call. He realizes that although he got lucky it could have been worse, and the law is the law.
So while Mason is parked watching drivers and their hands he explained some of the various ways drivers try to hide their use. He demonstrated how a typical driver could hold the cell phone up to their ear leaving one hand on the wheel. Or they can text with one hand, or they can hold the cell phone down low so that no one notices they’re texting but then the head is bent downward. Not only is the driver not using both hands, but also he or she isn’t even watching the traffic.
A ticket for using a cell phone while driving costs about $147, Mason said. There’s the $25 fine for a first offense and then court costs. It goes up to $50 and court costs for a second ticket.
It isn’t considered a moving violation, Mason said.
When the state of California passed its first version of the cell phone use law it covered texting only. “That was almost impossible to prove,” Mason said.
In most cases when someone is texting, Mason can’t see it inside the vehicle that’s passing by.
Now cell phones must be mounted or come as part of the navigation system on new cars. “Any grasp of the phone other than in an emergency is a violation,” he explained.
“He’s a tough one,” Mason suddenly said as he watched a man driving by. His shoulder was up and he had his arm on the steering wheel in an unusual manner. But there was no cell phone in sight and he had control of what he was doing.
Every state has different laws pertaining to cell phone use and driving, Mason explained. “Here any grasping of the phone is illegal,” he said.
“For every cell phone ticket I give, there are five verbal warnings,” Mason said about how things work out on his watch.
Mason is all for educating drivers. If he can get someone to understand that using the cell phone while driving is illegal and potentially dangerous and they stop doing it then he’s pleased.
He realizes that people work hard for their money and he doesn’t want to come off as a jerk by just handing out tickets right and left.
That said, sometimes the ticket is necessary. Later in the morning, a woman passed by with her cell phone to her ear. Although Mason’s unit was in plain sight, she was so involved in her conversation that she didn’t notice him. “And there we go right there,” Mason said when he noticed the driver on her phone. “Her right hand is right to her ear. She’s talkin’ away.”
Mason immediately turned on his lights and began following her. The driver was first noticed before she came to the intersection at Gulling and Highway 70 at the traffic lights. She continued to drive and talk on her phone all the way to the Williams House closer to the edge of Portola, when she finally pulled over. “That’s quite a bit of time,” Mason said about how long it took for the driver to realize a unit with its lights flashing was behind her.
Mason approached the vehicle from the passenger side and the door opened. He spends some time talking to the driver and then returned to his unit. “She admitted she was doing it,” he said. “She doesn’t fall under my threshold of someone who deserves a verbal warning,” he added as he typed information into his computer.
Besides talking on her cell phone, the driver didn’t have her license with her. Mason checks it out, she does have a driver license, but it was just recently that she got it back after it was suspended. Her windshield is also cracked.
Mason gives her a ticket for the cell phone use, a citation for driving without her license being with her and reminds her to get the windshield fixed.
Windshields are designed to resist one impact, Mason said. Once it’s cracked the glass can come back into the vehicle if an impact should occur. It’s another teachable moment, he added.
While Mason was writing the woman her ticket and citation, he said that he wasn’t comfortable with where the unit was parked. He couldn’t work and be aware of what was going on around him. For this ticket he chose to stand near the car, his back to the river and his front facing the stopped vehicle and the roadway.
As he got out of the unit, he also shut his door. Explaining that an open door is just an invitation for someone to walk up and jump into the unit and drive off. That might happen more in LA rather than in Plumas County, but Mason is still cautious.
But the stop for the cell phone incident wasn’t Mason’s only activity of the morning.
Just leaving the CHP substation on the eastern edge of Portola, Mason was behind a vehicle that clearly showed its registration was expired.
That driver finally turned off at Delleker and stopped near a driveway.
Approaching the passenger side, Mason talked to the driver about his registration. This man didn’t have his driver license with him and didn’t know which name was on it. “I know the name on my driver license,” Mason said he told the man, when he returned to the unit.
Looking up the information on the computer, he said that the man did have a valid license, but would get a citation for not having it with him. He was also cited for not having a current registration.
Mason issued this driver fix-it tickets. He would have to show that he has a valid driver license, even though the officer could see on the computer that he did, and that he updated the vehicle registration.
A little later Mason made another stop. This was for a man in his company truck. Mason was concerned that the top right hand part of the license plate was bent under so he couldn’t see a registration tag. He said he didn’t know if that was an attempt to hide the fact the vehicle wasn’t currently registered or just damage.
The driver of this pickup stopped quickly and Mason got out to talk to the driver. Learning that it was damage, Mason went to the trouble of straightening out the man’s license plate for him.
But while stopped at the hardware store on Highway 70, Mason caught another out-of-date registration on a pickup.
Because the pickup was on private property, Mason chose to drive across the street and wait along a side road. Here again he was in plain sight and he could see the driver when he left the parking lot.
It wasn’t long before the pickup was out on the roadway and stopped at a stop sign. It did seem that the driver was there quite a while before proceeding across Highway 70 and driving right past the unit.
At first it seemed the driver might stop, but he continued on. Mason turned his unit around and followed the pickup down a side road and to a residence. As Mason drove up and stopped, the man got out of his pickup and proceeded to walk toward the house.
Not wanting the man to disappear into the house, Mason got on the unit’s loudspeaker and asked him to wait up.
When the man returned to his pickup, he met up with Mason who had left his unit.
Besides not have the pickup registered, the man is driving a rig with extra wide tires and no mud flaps. That’s a violation, but Mason was concerned enough with discussing the man’s other issues that he didn’t bring it up.
The man, a chatty fellow, admits he’s on probation for a felony and trying to do the right things. Mason listens to his story and tells the man that he’s on the right track in some respects, but in other ways he’s making his problems worse.
Mason pointed out that if the man needed something at the hardware store he was just 25 paces away. He should have walked and not taken the chance with driving an unregistered vehicle.
Besides the registration problem, the man was driving on a suspended driver license and he had no insurance. “The guy seems to be responsible (in that) he’s working to pay off things,” Mason said back in the unit.
Mason decides to write him a citation. He’s also concerned that the pickup is now parked on private property. “I’m not going to have it towed because that just leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the community,” he explained.
Law enforcement doesn’t have a good reputation right now, Mason said about all the episodes and public response throughout the nation. “We need to get on the right path.”
“It looks like he’s trying, but he can’t take the truck to work,” Mason said.
When Mason went back to continue to talk to the man he said, “You’ve got to make some good decisions now … you’re pretty deep in it. It doesn’t make sense to add to it.”
“You’re a rolling bulls eye for law enforcement,” he told the man.
As the morning goes on, Mason sees a few other things that can relate to distracted driving.
Here, a woman notices Mason’s unit and quickly puts on her seat belt. There, a pickup is parked half on the sidewalk and half in the street. At first Mason thinks the driver didn’t want to get in the way of the bike path, but when he turns the unit around for a better look there’s plenty of room on the street without interfering with the bike path.
Although Mason knocks several times on the front door where the pickup is parked, he ends up putting a notice to move the vehicle on its windshield.
Then just a few blocks over he finds another pickup parked in a crosswalk. Again another notice is put on the windshield.
While there is only the one distracted-driver incident that morning, there have been plenty of other things occurring to making the morning move along.
A dog locked in a parked car with the windows rolled up is another response. This is an opportunity to hand out CHP star stickers to children and spend a few minutes catching up with things with Plumas County Sheriff’s Deputy Christy Ross.