Texting while driving laws net few violators

Florida and South Carolina allow it, Georgia doesn’t. Texting while driving is a hot-button issue with safety experts and law enforcement. In states where texting while driving is forbidden, officials insist it prevents motor vehicle accidents. But what if they wrote a law and no one enforced it?

That seems to be what’s happening in Georgia. Police there report writing fewer than 50 citations a month for texting while driving, which means that only about 1,300 people have been convicted since the law took effect on July 1, 2010. Compare that to the 22,500 people who have been convicted of driving drugged or drunk over the same period. Police say the law is hard to enforce because they have to see the driver actually texting, and not simply dialing a number, in order to make the traffic stop. In states like California, New York, New Jersey and Nevada officers have an easier job. All cell phone use while driving is illegal, and just seeing a phone in the driver’s hand is cause enough to pull them over.

The Georgia State Patrol estimates that troopers write about 11 citations a month, statewide. It’s hard to catch drivers in the act; people know better than to text with a patrol car next to them, and most texters get their phones out of sight if they spot a cop. Drivers can be ticketed even if they are stopped at a red light; the law does not differentiate. Then there is the question of whether county and city police departments think the no-texting law is a high enforcement priority. Usually it’s not emphasized and officers look for more dangerous and easier-to-spot violations like speeding and reckless driving.

Distracted driving due to texting is not a trivial matter. Georgia recorded 3,840 crashes last year that were caused by a texting driver. Nine of those were fatal and 955 resulted in serious injuries. Some Georgia legislators who worked to get the texting ban passed are unhappy that enforcement is so skimpy, but they say sooner or later the idea will sink in and drivers will police themselves. At least, that’s the hope.

Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Texting while driving law rarely enforced,” Andria Simmons, Oct. 30, 2012

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