, Gloucester, MA

June 11, 2013

Editorial: Texting driving patrols, pilot program can't come soon enough

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — We’ve all seen it:

You’re stopped at a red light – perhaps at Eastern Avenue, or maybe at Bass Avenue — and the driver ahead of you is so engaged with his smart phone, he or she doesn’t notice when the light turns green.

Even worse, a driver approaching the intersection fails to see the lights have turned red and keeps going.

We all know by now how dangerous texting while driving can be. Still lots and lots of drivers are still doing it.

Now, North Shore 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 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 smart phone 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” and mirroring past special patrols to crack down on drunken driving and road rage.

Another $460,000-plus is earmarked to monitor and refine those strategies to better combat this true public safety hazard.

One issue for enforcers is that the variety of handheld devices continues to proliferate, as do the number of applications. Yet, nationally, 24 percent of all crashes are reported to be related to the use of handheld devices of one kind or another while distracted driving — including texting while driving — is blamed for 3,000 deaths and 400,000 injuries annually.

Research using driving simulators at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst backs up police observations about the threat posed by texting behind the wheel, finding that drivers are 23 times more likely to get into an accident while texting — compared to only three or four times more likely for drivers who are legally drunk.

Massachusetts’ law on texting while driving applies to driver of all ages, as does New Hampshire’s. The fine for first offenses in both states is $100. Massachusetts drivers under 18 are also forbidden to use a handheld cell phone while driving.

Look, we’ve previously opposed blanket bans on the use of cellphones while driving. But we have long supported vigorous enforcement against those who drive erratically — whether they are texting, shaving, applying makeup, wolfing down a fast-food burger or engaging in any of the other unsafe activities we see all too often our roads.

The special saturation patrols targeting drivers who text will be conducted for periods of two to four weeks at a time, and it started Monday with a campaign by Andover-based State Police Troop A that runs through June 29.

Here’s hoping that the Danvers barracks is next, and that it will provide a similar pilot focusing at least in part on Cape Ann. Look around you the next time you’re stopped at a light. We need it — in the name of highway safety.