Wednesday, September 29, 2010

State police are ticketing texting drivers

By Jamey Dunn

Following up on yesterday’s blog post about a study on texting-while-driving bans, here is some info on enforcement in Illinois:

Enforcing the texting-while-driving ban can be difficult. However, Illinois state troopers are writing tickets for the offense.

Scott Compton, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Police, said the low rate of tickets issued for texting while driving in the early months of the ban was due in part to police giving the public time to become aware of and adjust to the new law.

As of September 19, Illinois State Police officers have issued 344 tickets and 353 warnings for violations of the ban. 3,401 tickets and 2,056 warnings have also been issued for talking on a cell phone in a school or construction zone — a restriction that passed at the same time as the texting ban.

These numbers illustrate the difficulty police officers can have determining if a driver is texting. Chatting on the phone is easy to spot, but texting can resemble other legal activities, such as using a global positioning system for directions.

“It’s pretty difficult to see that in an interstate setting. … However, if the officer is going in the same direction of the car, you can tell if they’re texting. … And believe it or not, a marked state police car does get passed on the interstate,” Compton said.

According to Compton, it is less difficult to nab texting drivers in town at slower speeds. People sending text messages while stopped at stoplights and stop signs make easy targets, as well.

Compton said police officers have to be sure the driver is texting to make a traffic stop for that reason. The decision to write a warning instead of a ticket for any kind of illegal cell phone usage is up to the officer. He said “aggravating circumstances,” such as a driver passing through a school zone filled with children while talking on the phone, often increase the chances of getting ticket.

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