Despite the pleas, warnings and penalties, motorists continue to text while driving.
In fact, police say the number of infractions is increasing. In New York, drivers who received tickets for texting skyrocketed from about 8,000 in 2011 to 85,000 in 2015. The same holds true in California, where traffic citations were handed out to about 3,000 motorists guilty of texting in 2009 and rose to 31,000 in 2015.
Worse yet, law enforcement admits it is basically powerless to stop the bad habit. However, some police departments across the United States are getting creative in trying to combat the dangerous practice.
State troopers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, are cruising the highways in big rigs, relying on the increased height afforded by the trucks to look down on drivers and nab those who are texting.
In Bethesda, Maryland, a policeman dressed up as a homeless man and stood at a busy intersection, radioing ahead to fellow officers the make and model of vehicles in which the drivers were texting. In just two hours, a police detail wrote 65 tickets.
And in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb, a uniformed officer patrols on a bicycle, handing out $105 tickets to guilty parties at stoplights.
Why does the cellphone hold so many of us hostage, powerless to ignore its bings, dings and rings?
Surveys show that most drivers know how horribly dangerous texting and driving can be, but they persist, probably thinking something terrible will happen to someone else but never them.
According to an Associated Press story published on Saturday in The Tribune-Democrat, Jay Winsten, director of the Center for Health Communication at Harvard University, is developing a media campaign aimed at distracted drivers. It will encourage defensive driving and also warn motorists to be on the lookout for distracted motorists.
“We’re trying to get the attention of people by not talking to them as the villain,” Winsten said, “but rather as the other guy.”
The center helped to develop the 1980 campaign that urged the use of designated drivers to get drunken drivers from behind steering wheels.
Meanwhile, police will have to deal with the hazards created by distracted drivers.
“We’ve seen cars in trees,” West Bridgewater police Chief Victor Flaherty told the AP. “We’ve had two houses hit within three weeks. We had a car off the road 100 yards before it hit a parking lot.”
New York tried a legal approach, equipping officers with a Textalyzer, which they could use to check a cell phone’s activity before a wreck. The idea was scuttled after objections were raised.
Louisiana and other states have hiked the fines for first-time offenders to $500 from $175, hoping the large levies will force the motorists to become better drivers.
In the meantime, police departments will have to keep coming up with inventive ways to find and remove from our highways drivers who are more interested in their cellphones than the road ahead and the safety of others.