Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 7, 2013

Impossible to enforce

— Indiana legislators passed a law in 2011, aimed at cutting back on the number of motorists texting while driving. It doesn’t work.

The problem, any patrol officer, sheriff’s deputy or trooper will tell you, is the law is impossible to enforce.

While the law forbids drivers from typing, transmitting or reading texts and emails while their vehicles are in motion, it also says officers can’t confiscate phones or other mobile devices to determine whether a person was breaking the law.

And besides, it’s likely hard to tell whether a driver is illegally texting or using a smartphone’s GPS.

A 2011 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that about 2 of 10 drivers admitted sending text messages or emails from the driver’s seat.

At any given moment in 2011, the agency said, nearly 1 in every 100 drivers was texting, emailing, surfing the Web or otherwise using a handheld electronic device. And those activities spiked 50 percent over the previous year.

The trend appears to continue its rise. A new survey from AT&T reports 49 percent of adult respondents said they text and drive. Three years ago, 6 in 10 adults said they never texted behind the wheel.

In 2011, many drivers didn’t think the practice was dangerous, at least when they did it. A quarter of all drivers that year reported that sending text messages had no effect on their driving.

That’s no longer the case: A full 98 percent of adult drivers in the AT&T survey now say they know distracted driving isn’t safe.

Advocacy groups have launched campaigns trying to raise awareness of the danger, pointing out that at highway speeds a vehicle can travel the length of a football field in only an instant.

What will really get drivers’ attention, though, is the threat of a suspended license, AT&T found, followed by the possibility of a $500 fine.

The Associated Press reported last year that law enforcement agencies in New York and Connecticut had brought about significant reductions in distracted driving simply by handing out more tickets.

That’s what needs to happen in Indiana, where 966 crashes in 2012 were linked to cellphone use, the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute reported.

Lawmakers have acknowledged the danger by making texting while driving illegal. Now, they need to add provisions — such as giving police the ability to confiscate phones, and threatening drivers with suspension — that will make the ban enforceable.