When Tennessee outlawed texting and driving in 2009, enforcement was spotty. Although distracted driving an estimated 448,000 car accidents with injuries that same year, many people have ignored the law, and most drivers cited for texting were only given a ticket when they were pulled over for another traffic offense.
According to a recent story in the Tennessean, the Tennessee Highway Patrol gave out only 54 tickets for texting while driving in 2009. Last year, they handed out only 171. Research studies and common sense both tell us that texting while driving is probably far more common than reflected by those numbers, and the Nashville Metro Police apparently agree.
Earlier this month, Nashville Metro announced a new initiative to crack down on distracted drivers by cruising trouble spots in unmarked SUVs and ticket texting drivers. The Tennessean took a look at the program and residents' reactions to it, hoping to determine if stepped-up enforcement could finally convince people to put away their electronics and put safety first.
Sparking conversation may help cut down dangerous texting and driving
There's no question that texting and driving is dangerous, although there is some doubt whether texting-and-driving laws actually work. The goal is to cut down on tragic car and trucking accidents caused by distracted drivers, and there isn't enough data yet to determine whether the number of distraction-related motor vehicle accidents has gone down as a result of the laws, most of which were passed in the last few years.
Some residents interviewed in the Tennessean story believe that increased enforcement will cut down on distracted-driver car accidents.
"Every teenager is scared of the cops," said a 16-year-old interviewed by the Tennessean. "Catching people is the best way to stop them," he said. "It scared me."
Others said they understood the danger but didn't think the text patrols would change their behavior very much.
"Just scolding a random person here or there isn't going to work," counters a 22-year-old. "I wouldn't stop texting and driving at all because I got a ticket."
One 35-year-old woman said that knowing there's a higher chance of a ticket has cut down on her texting behind the wheel, but she doesn't think she'll stop completely until she becomes fully convinced of the danger.
"If enough people were talking about how it shouldn't be done, then I might stop," said the 22-year-old.
Nashville Metro officers hope that the text patrols will at least have the side benefit of getting enough people talking.
"It's a habit," said a 21-year-old woman, who admits she texts while driving. "You don't see the danger until something actually happens."
That's the problem, of course. Do you think increased enforcement will help reduce texting and driving? What do you think could be done to fully convince people of the dangers of texting and other distracting activities behind the wheel?