NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 10, 2013

Our view: Texting while driving crackdown

We’ve all seen it: You’re stopped at a red light and the driver ahead of you is so engaged with his smartphone, he doesn’t notice when the light turns green. Or, worse, a driver on the cross street fails to see that the light has turned red.

We all know by now how dangerous texting while driving can be. But lots and lots of drivers are still doing it. Local drivers are about to be reminded it’s against the law.

Massachusetts is one of two states chosen for a pilot program paid for by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The pilot program is designed not only to enforce the state’s law against texting while driving but also to develop enforcement methods that can be applied across the country in other states with anti-texting laws — at this point, there are 41 of them.

While it sometimes seems as if almost everyone has a smartphone these days, police are still learning how to spot and stop drivers in the act.

State Police Lt. Col. Edward Amodeo said $275,000 of the federal money will be used to train 190 troopers and deploy saturation patrols “looking, observing and watching,” mirroring past special patrols to crack down on drunken driving and road rage.

“We have a couple of strategies we will be developing going forward,” he said

Another $460,000-plus is earmarked to monitor and refine those strategies to better combat texting while driving.

“The challenge is that it’s difficult to enforce these laws, which is why this project is so important,” said Maria Vegega of the NHTSA. “It’s an important step to saving lives.”

One issue for enforcers is that the variety of handheld devices is proliferating and so is the number of applications. Drivers are no longer limited to flip-phones.

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