A new AAA report shows that nearly 4,000 tickets were issued to motorists in Onondaga County in 2015 for using their cell phones and texting while driving. Legislative analyst and report author Alex Slatky called the situation ‘an epidemic’ and said people need to be more aware of the severity of distracted driving.
“Driving in general is a do as I say not as I do activity,” said Slatky. “94% of people say that texting behind the wheel is unacceptable, but more than a third admit to do it. It’s really just a hypocrisy. It’s a belief that it won’t happen to them or that for some reason they’re able to be distracted and still be safe drivers, when that’s just an impossible task.”
The ultimate consequence is causing a crash with injuries or fatalities. Slatky said it shouldn’t have to come to that, for people to take action.
“We’re seeing a rise nationally in fatalities that we haven’t seen in close to 15 years. This is really the time for us to take traffic safety serious,” said Slatky.
Statewide 150 deaths were blamed on inattention or distracted driving in 2015. Police that year issued 217,000 cell phone or texting tickets statewide. Slatky said enforcing the law isn’t always easy and might require a different strategy.
“You might want to use an officer as a pedestrian because distracted driving is a hard ticket to issue,” said Slatky. “You have to actually see inside the car. Most other violations you can be far away and just watch a car blow through a stop sign, for example. But with a cell phone you have to actually see inside the car. And sometimes getting out of the patrol car might be a way to do that.”
Slatky said officers dedicated solely to enforcing distracted driving laws, combined with community education campaigns have proven to reduce the number of violations as well as fatal crashes. That worked in the town of New Castle in Westchester County, where he says 38% of traffic tickets issued were for cell phone or texting violations. That compares to 4.3% in Onondaga County. Slatky said just a single officer can make a difference.
“We know from studies of traffic ticket data that officers that are more motivated and feel personally invested in stopping this problem are more likely to issue summonses,” said Slatky. “They’re more likely to go out and do the work on the roads.”
Slatky said special enforcement periods are also helpful in reducing distracted driving, but admits it doesn’t last. April is distracted driving awareness month.