The act of texting while driving was unknown just a few short years ago. Today it represents one of the most dangerous activities on our nation's roads and highways; endangering motorists, fellow passengers and street pedestrians. Texting while driving not only causes accidents with bodily injury and property damage. Increasingly, the act of texting while driving has produced distracted drivers causing vehicle mishaps with often fatal consequences.
In 2012 in New Castle Pennsylvania, a quiet suburb outside of the city of Pittsburgh, yet another case of the deadly dangers of distracted drivers came to light. Daniel Gallatin, a former Volunteer Fire Department Chief was killed by an SUV driver texting from behind the wheel of her car. The driver Laura Gargiulo is alleged to have been texting on her phone while driving. In September 2013 she was brought to trial in the death of the motorcyclist, caused when she could not see his motorcyle about to turn in front of her. As the case makes its way through the legal system, it is noted that the State of Pennsylvania inacted a law banning texting while driving months earlier. However, the difficulty in enforcing these laws is bringing the issue once again into the public arena
Although texting while driving laws have been in effect in many cities and states, it is difficult for law enforcement to detect. Sometimes try as they may, police will have issued zero citations to “distracted motorists” because they can not be proven during the legal process.
As is often the case, police will receive a report of a motorist texting while driving. By the time they can catch up with the car in question, the case becomes “moot.” The driver may have stopped texting on his phone or have driven out of the designated city limits. In addition, to make any ordinance stick in court police have to have clear proof of someone actually entering numbers or text into their phones. This means that police have to catch them in the act and not just base a citation on “reasonable doubt” to get a conviction in a court of law.
When other motorists alert police to distracted drivers by phoning or texting the police, this makes them as distracted as the drivers they are concerned about. Requiring police officers to check out motorists texting while driving alongside of their squad cars, can be a distraction for police as well. This is particularly true when police are observing cars on the drivers side of a moving squad car; whether they are driving along side or in the same direction. This can further create an officer caused highway accident or traffic tie up.
Once stopped and asked to pull out of traffic, drivers who text often hide their phones below their seats or anywhere in the car but beside them on the seat. Unless the phone is actually in the drivers hand when stopped or actively mounted and in use on the dashboard, a police officer will find it harder to make an accusation that will hold up in court. With the rise of legal representation for drivers, municipalities and police agencies now have to be fearful of reversed legal actions directed against them.
Several states have been actively working to combat this problem. In 2012 the US Transportation Board gave $275,000 each to the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts for pilot programs to detect and crack down on drivers who text while on the road. These states were to develop what are known as “high-visibility anti-texting enforcement programs.” These pilot programs will entail police spotters who are stationed on highway and roadway overpasses to observe drivers below.
Other states are also investigating how to curb distracted drivers with similar approaches. During the summer of 2013, the New York State Police began a program that recognizes texting drivers from unmarked SUVs driving along them. These sports utility vehicles have a higher than average seating platform built within them. State troopers can see inside other vehicles with a greater field of vision. As they drive along side, they search inside to see if both of the driver's hands are on the steering wheel. If not they look further for signs of texting. If the driver is found to be actively texting, police then can take a photo or video to catch them in the act. This serves as both a deterrent, as well as tangible proof in a court of law increasing convictions.