How Local Police Enforce Distracted Driving Laws

As drivers, we tend to get distracted while driving more often than we would like to admit. A lot of us try to stay away from using our cellphone when we’re behind the wheels.

But we rarely consider picking our coffee from the cup holder or enjoying the scenic view as distracted driving.

A quick reminder on distracted driving laws — everything that takes your eyes, hands, or mind off driving comes under the definition of distracted driving.

Because of this lack of clarity with respect to distracted driving, it’s not easy for police officers to enforce laws that prohibit drivers from getting distracted.

Most of the time, when caught, drivers can easily lie about what they were doing which makes enforcement quite difficult for the police.

Naturally, police officers have to get creative to catch people who are engaged in any activity that distracts them from driving.

Despite creative efforts by local police officers to curb the practice of using cell phones while driving, the instances seem to be rising...

  • From the year 2011 to 2015, texting tickets in New York increased from 9,000 to 85,000.
  • In the same time period, texting tickets in Massachusetts soared to 6,100 from 1,100.
  • In California, the number of texting while driving incidences increased from 3,000 to 31,000 over the period of 2009 to 2015.

Though most of the states have stringent cell phone use laws, some states do allow people to use phones for talking while texting is almost banned everywhere.

Most of the time it’s difficult to assess whether people are using their phones for talking or just browsing on social media because the only way to know for sure is by checking the phone.

And, we all know that people can refuse to hand over their phones citing privacy reasons.

To overcome some of these problems, some companies have developed new technology to help police officers assess whether a driver was texting or not.

In other states, police officers have devised intelligent methods to catch people using their cell phones.

What unique initiatives have been used to prohibit distracted driving?

  • In Chattanooga, Tennessee, state police have used tractor-trailers to patrol as it gives them clear visibility into what drivers are doing on the road.
  • In Bethesda, Maryland, a police officer took on the appearance of a homeless man close to a busy intersection and sent information to his colleagues about drivers who were texting.
  • Police officers dressed up as panhandlers with a board in their hands and went up to the windows of drivers to catch them in the act of using their cell phone in San Bernardino, California.
  • In West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, a police officer regularly circled his area on a bicycle and gave tickets to drivers who were found texting.
  • The police department in Austin used a double team effort to catch people texting while driving. One team hops on the local transit line to see which drivers are texting and then informs the other team about these lawbreakers.
  • Back in 2014, Kentucky launched a new smartphone app, TextLimit, that limited the ability of drivers to send or receive text messages/calls when their vehicle touches a specific speed limit.
  • Lawmakers in the states of New York, Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee, and the city of Chicago are contemplating the use of textalyzers, a new device that would help police officers view the cell phone activity of drivers.

Despite the dangerous impact of cell phone use while driving, people continue to get distracted whenever their phone rings or at the sound of a notification.

In 2016, around 3,450 fatalities were registered from distracted driving crashes, with 14 percent directly linked to cell phone use as per the U.S. Department of Transportation.

How can law enforcement ensure people abide by the traffic laws?

Though local police departments have been quite proactive in ensuring that people minimize the use of cell phones while driving, not much has changed over the years.

More than catching people in the act of texting or browsing social media, it’s important to raise social awareness about the perils of distracted driving.

The Department of Transportation in every state already works with local highway patrol to display messages on highways and freeways about traffic.

If they regularly put out messages related to defensive driving or the number of fatal crashes from distracted driving, it will definitely make a mark in the minds of people.

Starting this spring season, the Williamsburg Police Department plans to launch a ticketing campaign against distracted driving. The department will advertise their campaign on Facebook before they start issuing tickets.

Last year, the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety started an initiative to crackdown distracted driving. The campaign, known as UDrive UText UPay, targeted motorists engaging in dangerous behavior while driving.

How can the local police department be effective in stopping distracted driving?

Local police departments can have a huge influence on the people and can make an impact on driver behavior by issuing regular warnings as well as taking ticketing measures to curb distractions.

In addition, adding other activities such as drinking coffee or grooming habits, like putting on makeup, to the law would make roads safer for everyone.

With these measures, eventually the rate of distracted driving will decrease, allowing the roads to be a safer place for all travelers.

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