Although the number of car crashes resulting from drivers who text while driving has increased dramatically in recent years, Texas still remains one out of only four states in the nation without a state-wide ban on texting while driving. However, the City of Austin remains vigilant.
Even though Austin Police Department (APD) issued 5,703 tickets for use of electronic devices while driving last year, that hasn’t deterred drivers from using their cell phones when on the road. Recently, APD has tried a more unusual tactic of busting drivers who refuse to obey the law.
Police Use Spotters On Public Buses to Increase Enforcement
The problem with the high number of drivers who do not comply with the law that bans texting and driving is it’s very difficult for police to prove the driver is guilty. For example, when police stop a drunk driver, they are able to perform a field sobriety test to prove the driver is over the legal drinking limit. However, when police stop a distracted driver, the driver can simply hide their phone and deny they were using it while on the road. This forces police to subpoena cell phone records and conduct an investigation, which takes time and resources.
Cell phone related crashes increased by 24 percent last year in Austin. Police, having underestimated the lack of compliance, are taking to new measures to increase enforcement of distracted driving. More specifically, they’re taking bus rides.
Police post two “spotters” on a public Capital Metro bus that travels on IH-35 from Riverside Drive to Rundberg Lane. These spotters communicate with up to 12 officers on motorcycles posted along the side of the highway. If an officer tries to spot a driver on their cell phone in the car, it simply looks like the driver is looking downwards. However, the spotters in the bus have a higher vantage point that looks directly down into vehicles, which allows them to confirm the driver is indeed on their cell phone. The spotters then send vehicle information to the 12 officers posted on the highway and whichever officer is closest responds to pull over the distracted driver. Within two hours, the tag-teaming police officers issued more than 40 hands-free citations.
APD New Enforcement Initiative May Just Work to Decrease Distracted Driving
Although some Austinites have criticized this initiative as an extreme measure from APD, the fact is it may work. In 2014, a recorded 100,825 car crashes were caused by distracted drivers. Hopefully, APD initiatives will help spread awareness on the dangers of distracted driving and Austin will see a lower number of accident caused by cell phone use in 2016. These measures may be harsh, but they may save a life.