Local police officers say they will enforce a new Kentucky state law designed to stop motorists from texting on their cellphones while driving.
The ban went into effect at midnight on Jan. 1. Fines are $25 for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.
Police say motorists who text while driving act is a manner similar to those who drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“It’s kind of like a DUI,” said Sgt. Tyrone Fields of the Whitesburg Police Department. “ They are distracted and start weaving. You can about tell if they have been texting.”
Lt. Brian Damron of the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department said he has seen several instances become distracted while texting.
“They display similar patterns as a driver who is under the influence,” said Damron.
Both Fields and Damron say they have not worked any car wrecks that have been caused by cell phone usage.
“I’ve stopped vehicles before and they’ve had a cell phone in their hand,” said Fields. “As far as having a problem with it, we’ve not.”
Damron said he has noticed an increase in motorists who pull of the side of the road to text or talk on the cell phone.
“There has been an increase in awareness,” said Damron.
The new law, KRS 189.292, prohibits drivers from texting while their vehicle is in motion. Drivers under 18 are prohibited from both texting and cell phone use.
The texting law does not apply to those using the GPS feature of a device; a person operating a public safety vehicle when using the device as an essential function of their official duties; or when a motor vehicle operator is summoning law enforcement, medical help, reporting a crime, or attempting to prevent injury by using the device. The section prohibiting a minor from using any personal communications device is subject to exception only if the driver is summoning medical help or law enforcement or public safety personnel.
“These new laws were put in place to (put) the drivers’ focus back on the road instead of an electronic device,” said Kentucky State Police Trooper Elliott Gollihue of Ashland. “Drivers who are texting are 23 percent more likely to be in a crash and often display the driving characteristics of a person who is driving under the influence of alcohol.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver distraction is the leading cause in most crashes. In 2008, almost 20 percent of all crashes involved some form of distraction. The number of drivers reportedly distracted at the time of fatal crashes has increased from 8 percent in 2004 to 11 percent in 2008. Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent on near crashes involve some form of distraction within three seconds before the event.
Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent, according to Carnegie Mellon.
Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in U.S. crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than half a million were injured, according to the NHTSA.
KSP Trooper Corey King told the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer the law will be difficult to enforce, but could be an additional charge for people caught driving dangerously.
Also, in accidents where a fatality or serious injury occurs, prosecutors could look at a driver’s cell phone records to see whether he or she was texting.
Fatal traffic accidents have decreased in Kentucky for two years in a row. King said the state police credit laws such as the mandatory seat belt law for the decrease. They hope the new texting law will continue that decline.
Compiled from Associated Press and staff reports.