Despite laws, warnings, and a general recognition by the public that texting while driving is dangerous, people still do it. Even the rising number of deaths involving distracted drivers hasn’t stemmed the bad habit, according to the Associated Press.
Law enforcement in various parts of the country employs a variety of techniques to detect and ticket drivers using their phones illegally in cars. In Tennessee, state troopers patrol in tractor trailers so they can look down to see the offenders. A Maryland police officer disguised as a homeless person stood at an intersection acting as a spotter — he radioed to other officers down the street who stopped and ticketed texting offenders. In a Boston suburb, a police officer rides around town with a book of $105 tickets that he hands out at stoplights.
The Massachusetts police officer said, “It’s everyone, kids, older people — everyone. When I stop someone, they say, ‘You’re right. I know it’s dangerous, but I heard my phone go off and I had to look at it.'”
According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving overall was a factor in almost 3,200 traffic fatalities in 2014 and nearly 3,500 in 2015 in the mainland U.S. and Puerto Rico. Of those deaths, cell phones were the distracting element in 476 deaths in 2015, up from 406 in 2014.
Enforcement can be an issue in states where some cell phone use is permitted but texting is not. New York legislators wanted to equip police with Textalyzers to check phone activity, but that proposal is still on the table due to objections.
According to the Associate Press, 46 states have laws against texting while driving, although phone calls are okay. Fourteen states bar handheld cellphone use for any purpose.
In the meantime, ticketing keeps rising. In California, texting convictions rose from less than 3,000 in 2,009 to more than 31,000 in 2015. In Massachusetts, tickets handed out for texting while driving increased from about 1,100 in 2011 to more than 6,100 in 2015. In New York, the went from 9,000 in 2011 to almost 85,000 in 2015.
Then there are the people whose carelessness is baffling. “We did see one driver who had two phones going at one time — one in his left hand and one in his right hand, with his wrist on the steering wheel,” said Virginia state trooper Lt. Paul Watts.
And don’t assume you can get away with it at stop lights. “Some people call it the red-light prayer because their heads are bowed and they are looking down at their laps with a nice blue glow coming up in their face,” said California Office of Traffic Safety’s Chris Cochran.