As more states ban texting behind the wheel in a fight against deadly driver distractions, police departments around the country have found enforcing those laws difficult, if not impossible. Now a new federal grant will pay for experimenting with the only technique shown to work so far -- spying on motorists while they drive.
The $550,000 grant announced this week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will let police departments in Connecticut and Massachusetts test a variety of anti-texting moves over the next two years, from ad campaigns to roving patrols. The aim: To find "real-world protocols and practices to better detect if a person is texting while driving," said NHTSA chief David Strickland.
While 38 states ban texting behind the wheel, proving that someone is using their phone to type text rather than look at a map or some other permitted use has become a roadblock for law enforcement agencies. Only 10 states ban all hand-held cellphone use behind the wheel, so in most states with a texting ban, simply holding a phone in your hand isn’t enough for a ticket; officers have to see a driver thumb type before they can pull them over. In Minnesota, police wrote 1,200 tickets for texting in 2011, compared to 200,000 for speeding, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. In Scranton, Penn., police issued 10 tickets in six months after that state’s ban went into effect -- and one of those was to a driver who admitted texting after a crash.
That’s why the NHTSA grant will pay for "spotters on overpasses" and other roadways who could identify drivers while they type, and there’s already evidence for how such a program can work. In Bismarck, N.D., police wrote 31 distracted driving tickets in two days during a crackdown earlier this month where they used unmarked, high-riding trucks or SUVs to peer down into cars and catch texters in the act. Since North Dakota bars not just texting but Internet browsing behind the wheel, officers had to see what specific apps drivers were using, with one officer telling The Bismarck Tribune that they could have written twice as many tickets, but couldn’t get enough evidence.
SPOT the Officer SPOTTING YOU!
For your safety and convenience we have implemented our new "Spotter" program that will ensure that nobody ever breaks the law, ever. Our new surveillance techniques are quiet and freedom-free. Please refer to our new map, and simply locate where one of our many officers will be assisting the public by watching your every move.
Don’t own a cellphone? No problem! We’ll watch you anyway.
Thank you for your cooperation.
Know what’s better than a police panopticon? Self awareness, respect for fellow humans, and personal responsibility:
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