Study: Distracted driving bans depend on enforcement
During the past year, states and local governments have continued to combat distracted driving by passing legislation banning cellphone use while driving. Enforcing those laws and ordinances, however, can be both a financial and logistical challenge.
In July, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the results of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pilot project in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., that tracked the effect of increased enforcement and public education on distracted driving. From April 2010 to April 2011, the programs helped reduce hand-held cellphone use by 57 percent in Hartford and 32 percent in Syracuse, and texting and driving declined 72 percent in Hartford and 32 percent in Syracuse. Both municipalities issued more than 9,500 tickets over the course of four one-week “waves” that took place throughout the year.
While the approach was effective, it cost a combined $559,161 to advertise the “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other” message on TV, radio and online. And during each enforcement wave, both police departments dedicated between 1,045 and 1,370 hours. Hartford and Syracuse each received $200,000 in federal funding and $100,00 from their states. Since the end of the pilot, LaHood has called for increased federal funding to help local governments combat distracted driving
The pilot program also allowed the two cities to work out the logistics of catching distracted drivers. In Hartford, officers focused on morning and evening rush hours and were stationed in high-profile areas where people were getting on the highway and where there was room to pull people over, says Hartford’s Public Information Officer Nancy Mulroy. Officers also were on top of buildings with binoculars radioing to officers on the ground. Syracuse, in contrast, used roving patrols of officers focused on identifying drivers using cellphones.
Without assistance from the federal government or states, some local governments are struggling with enforcement. Grand Forks, N.D., banned texting and driving in September 2010, but police are not spending a lot of time trying to catch people. If there is an accident, they check cellphone records and determine if texting was involved. “It was more of a teaching moment than a grand ordinance that could be enforced,” says Hal Gershman, city council president.