Cops Disappointed That We Just Can’t Put Down Phones While Driving

Image courtesy of Ford Asia Pacific

For about as long as mobile phones have existed, traffic authorities have been on a campaign to get drivers to stop using them in our cars. The rise of texting over talking has made the problem even more hazardous, as communication requires at least one hand free and one eye on the screen. Cops are resorting to new tactics to catch and ticket texters, and they still aren’t deterring us.

According to the Associated Press, cops in Tennessee patrol in a tractor-trailer hoping to spot people who think they’re hiding their phones successfully, and state troopers in New York state use elevated SUVs for the same purpose.

Bicycle and motorcycle officers are also able to spot what motorists are up to. In Maryland, an officer went undercover as a homeless person and alerted colleagues in a patrol car to phone users spotted from that angle.

While a few hundred people are known to be killed in crashes involving drivers using their phones every year, experts think that the numbers might actually be higher: the problem is that police can’t compel people to hand over their phones without a warrant. The “textalyzer” has not yet been invented.

How bad is the problem? In New York, tickets issued for texting (as opposed to talking on a phone without a hands free device, which is also illegal) increased almost tenfold from 2011 to 2015.

You don’t get a more severe ticket for using two phones at once, but one VA state trooper told the AP that he caught a driver double-texting and driving. The driver had “one in his left hand and one in his right hand, with his wrist on the steering wheel,” the trooper recounted. Hey, maybe that was the guy whose photo we use in texting while driving stories sometimes!

One problem is that officers can’t always prove that a driver was using the phone to type a message or scrolling social media, if the state allows motorists to use their phones to talk.

Meanwhile, the same experts at Harvard’s School of Public Health who helped develop norms that now condemn driving while intoxicated are working to find the right message that will convince Americans to put our phones down.

Police losing battle to get drivers to put down their phones [AP]