Archive for Monday, September 19, 2011

Court records show few tickets issued to texting drivers in Lawrence, Douglas County

September 19, 2011


It’s been more than nine months since Kansas law enforcement officers got the go-ahead to ticket drivers for sending text messages while driving.

But the law has been used sparingly so far in Lawrence and Douglas County, according to court records.

Kansas Highway Patrol troopers and sheriff’s officers have issued tickets in Douglas County District Court to eight drivers this year, and in Lawrence Municipal Court police officers have ticketed 15 drivers under the law.

“It’s a real concern to us. It’s a real danger,” said Sgt. Steve Lewis, a sheriff’s spokesman. “But it’s a tough one to enforce, so I think educating all of those electronic-device users is necessary.”

When the law took effect, state transportation and law enforcement officials touted it as a tool to try to combat the major distraction that leads many drivers to taking their eyes off the road for seconds at a time.

But so far — at least on Douglas County roads and highways — most of the texting tickets were issued after an accident and a driver admitted to sending an electronic message just before or during the crash.

A 16-year-old Lawrence girl, who was not injured, was cited for texting Sept. 10 after she rolled her vehicle on Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence.

Before that accident, district court had processed seven tickets under the texting law this year, five of which occurred after crashes, said Jacy Wolfe, who handles traffic issues in the court clerk’s office. Information was not available last week on how many of the 15 texting citations in Lawrence Municipal Court occurred after traffic accidents. City Prosecutor Jerry Little said one person was convicted for violation of a texting law in a recent trial.

The ticket carries a $60 fine and about $100 in court costs.

Lewis said the law is difficult to enforce in rural areas because officers are usually either sitting stationary while monitoring traffic that is moving at a high rate of speed or patrolling on the road themselves while driving around 50 mph — faster than the usual 30 mph in urban areas.

While the law makes sending text, email or instant messages illegal while driving, it allows drivers to read, select or dial numbers so they can place a phone call while driving, making it often difficult for officers to tell the difference, Lewis said.

“It’s not any more difficult than any other laws we enforce,” said KHP Technical Trooper Josh Kellerman, who ticketed a man earlier this year for texting south of Lawrence after an accident. “We’re just trying to be a little more diligent, and we want to make sure 100 percent that it is a violation before we actually stop that vehicle.”

Law enforcement officers also said they hoped education about the issue could help deter drivers from texting or using features on their smartphones before they could face a ticket or, even worse, cause a serious head-on collision. Kellerman said troopers handed out information about the dangers of texting and driving and the law last week at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, for example.

Lewis said he encouraged people to download smartphone applications that can prevent them from sending text messages while they’re driving.

Kellerman said there’s an incorrect perception that it’s a problem only among younger drivers. While he said that it’s a major issue, adults are guilty of it, too. He said troopers while off duty often notice people texting when they are driving because generally people put down their phones when they see a marked police car around, just like when people tend to slow down to the speed limit if they see an officer.

“That’s why we want the troopers enforcing it,” Kellerman said. “We just need to make sure 100 percent it’s a violation before stopping them.”

Lewis said that while the law may be difficult to enforce in some situations, he believes it brings awareness to the problem.

“The law is a very good law,” he said, “because it addresses one of the newest and most common and probably one of the most dangerous distractions that now occupy drivers.”


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

"Law enforcement officers also said they hoped education about the issue could help deter drivers from,,,"

Death, paralysis in a wheelchair, and killing others while crashing their cars isn't enough to deter drivers from carelessness in several different ways as it is.

Do law enforcement officers really believe that education is going to help?

No, that's not what they said. They did not say they "believed", instead they said they "hoped".

Sure, I do too.

Cai 6 years, 8 months ago

I believe that this is a long way off, but I do think education can help. We had this same problem with drunk driving. And while drunk driving isn't entirely gone, it's certainly perceived as much more of an offense than it used to be. We could likely do similar things for texting. Think back to high school and drivers ed and all the demonstrations and then MADD and RADD took a lot. That's why we need time.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

Some people are all thumbs no matter what they do.

Stuart Evans 6 years, 8 months ago

I text exclusively with my index finger. thumb texting on an iphone is next to impossible for me, because I can't feel the buttons.

Jamea CallsHim 6 years, 8 months ago

Okay so texting is hard to catch. We understand that, just pull people over and look at their phone and see if a messege has been sent or received at that time. If they refuse to hand over the phone? automatic guilty and they can go to court and show proof via phone records. But still make them pay the court fee's if they are able to proof their innocence. If your innocent just show the police officer your phone, its simple.

But more importantly; what about the easy traffic stops? Running red lights. I see this every single time I drive. Especially on a green turn arrow. Just because the people in front of you turned does not automatically give you a pass to turn, your light is red, stop and wait for it to turn green. This is something that is very easy to pull someone over for, but I have never seen anyone get pulled over for it. Just poste someone up at the 23rd and Iowa light and save some gas from driving around. You'll get your monthly quota is a day or two.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

I think a purpose of the texting law is not so much to pull over and ticket drives who do it, but rather to make injured parties able win a lawsuit more easily when that was a contributing factor in an accident that a texting driver caused.

Another purpose of it is to allow the state to more easily prove a vehicular homicide case against a texting driver.

In a court case, the texting records can be subpoenaed and used as evidence.

jlzack 6 years, 8 months ago

I would have to agree with you jamea0216...... I was recently sitting at 23rd & Iowa, (northbound) awaiting my green light, a Lawrence police officer was sitting at a half block south of the intersection, (facing North) while my light turned green, there were 6 cars that ran the red light turning left onto eastbound 23rd street..... he didn't stop any of them. You can see this happening at any time night or day & I have yet to see LPD pulling anyone over at this intersection..

Cai 6 years, 8 months ago

Jamea: While I will be the first to tell you that texting while driving is behavior that needs to be curbed, your solution seems to me to be a huge violation of privacy.

You could, in my opinion, fix it, by proving in court, via phone records and thus, avoiding court costs. If you're innocent, you should NOT have to pay. Especially since you're already paying for your privacy by missing a day of work, etc.

I still wouldn't like the law, but it'd be a better compromise.

CreatureComforts 6 years, 8 months ago

Ah jeez...

Officer: "Were you sending a text?"

Driver: "No, sir"

Officer: "Too bad, you're guilty until proven innocent. Let me search your personal device"

Driver: "Warrant, please"

Officer: "Ah, you're clearly guilty, come with me"

Yeah, just what I want, any cop to just be able to pull me over, demand to see my phone, and then ticket me when I decline.

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 8 months ago

"If they refuse to hand over the phone? automatic guilty and they can go to court and show proof via phone records. But still make them pay the court fee's if they are able to proof their innocence. If your innocent just show the police officer your phone, its simple."

Riiiiight, except our legal system doesn't function that way. Not familiar with our constitution, are you?

thebigspoon 6 years, 8 months ago

To Glock and Creature: we already have this type of law on the books, concerning DUI/DWI. If the cop thinks he has reason to believe you've been drinking, he has great latitude, including jail, in his stop. The same thing could be said of texting: if the officer believes he has reason (sight, erratic driving, etc.) to believe illegal phone use is happening, he very well could be able to ask to see your recent phone records (do a field sobriety test) or take you into custody if you refuse (ala DUI suspect refuses to take sobriety test). We've opened this action up to law enforcement, so we should ask that they enforce it. Not a happy thought for individualists, but, the law, just the same. Should apply across the board.

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 8 months ago

No, no it doesn't apply across the board. That's why laws are written fairly specifically. Go read some DUI laws and get back with me. I'm glad you are (likely) neither a lawyer nor a police officer. I like the notion that insisting on one's rights somehow makes one an individualist... If so, what does that make you?

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

I would think things like probable cause, reasonable suspicion, acceptable warrantless searches, etc. would be consistent from offense to offense.

Stuart Evans 6 years, 8 months ago

guilty until proven innocent? I don't think so. There is no way a police officer is touching my phone without a warrant. The texts, pictures, etc, are all private, and that encroaches on 4th amendment rights.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

I'm not saying I think it's right, but we seem to have concluded that 4th amendment protections are somewhat less when traveling in a vehicle than in other situations.

holy_cow 6 years, 8 months ago

I think they should put a tiny device in all vehicles that totally disables all cell phone functions.

Tristan Moody 6 years, 8 months ago

Including calling for help if you've been I'm am accident. Why not just ban cell phones altogether?

CreatureComforts 6 years, 8 months ago

Yeah, excellent. Beyond the obvious that SWGlassPit puts forward, unless you have a 1 seat car (don't see many McLaren F1's driving around Lawrence), there are usually at least 4 other seats in the car where people can not only sit but text, talk, search the web, navigate for the driver, and do anything else on their devices that distracts the driver in no way at all.

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 8 months ago

lulz yeah... we need that sort of intrusion in our lives.

Stuart Evans 6 years, 8 months ago

yes, because everyone in a car is the driver, and cars are always in motion. Think this one through a little more.

somedude20 6 years, 8 months ago

Heck if Lawrence PD wants to write some tickets all they have to do is sit in the St John's parking lot on Kentucky St on a weekday morning and bust all the soccer moms and kids that pay no attention to the flashing school zone 20 mph sign as they speed through the area.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

I wish I could remember more of the details, but years ago I either read about or was told about a situation exactly like that. I tend to think I was told, but I really don't remember. I only remember the situation.

Somewhere, somewhere in the past, many people, usually mothers, complained to the police that there were simply to many drivers speeding through the school zone and endangering their children.

The police department complied with their request, and began to very vigorously enforce the school zone speed limit by that school.

It wasn't very long before the police department got another request. This time it was to slack off on the speeding tickets, because the only speeders that there seemed to be was parents picking up their children!

Paul R Getto 6 years, 8 months ago

"holy_cow (anonymous) says… I think they should put a tiny device in all vehicles that totally disables all cell phone functions." ==== As I understand it, that could be done, but it would be bad for 'biddness.' Cell phones do have some business advantages, for auto repair shops, mortuaries and coffin manufactures.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

Also, those working in the monument business. Have you ever been to a monument company to have one carved? They are rather expensive. Plus the employees at the quarry and those who work for the shipping companies that transport granite all around the country make a contribution to the economy too.

A monument carved in granite is very permanent. I sure do hate to see something so permanent carved for someone that is gone far too soon. The real tragedy is, it happens far too often, and is then only in the local news for a very brief time.

But for the families and friends, the loss is as permanent as granite.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 8 months ago

At least a guy that has had a couple of beers is watching the road, and he or she could loose their DL for a couple of years. But that is ok. Children of MADD moms text so it benefits them.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

That reminds me of a couple things that I say quite often to friends, but I don't think I've ever posted them here:

It's so much easier to see faults in other people than to see faults in yourself.

And, your own faults are the ones that irritate you the most in other people.

conservative 6 years, 8 months ago

It's a stupid law, it is already covered under inattentive driving ordinances. Start apply that law for texting along with pulling over the holier than thou crowd who aren't texting but are eating, drinking, changing the radio, looking at the passenger while having a conversation..... Oh and thumbs would be used while using mapquest, googlemaps, etc. As far as a chip that turns off cell phone function in a moving car that may be beneficial for some aspects of a phone but not for calling. When that roadrage guy starts driving dangerously you want to be able to call the cops, same thing when your teenage daughter is driving alone and someone starts following her, do you want her to be able to call for help?

Paul R Getto 6 years, 8 months ago

conservative: Two points. The devices could be disabled in moving vehicles. The last time I checked, there is no 'inattentive driving' law, at least at the state level. Having to prove 'reckless driving' is a much higher standard. I just wish people would put their full attention to the task at hand, but we are distractable chimps.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

That is so very true about us being distractible. Fortunately, when passengers are trying to talk to me when I'm driving they often have to repeat themselves once or twice or maybe even more, because I am constantly distracted by the other vehicles on the road, how they are moving, where they might suddenly move to or maybe stop, and what might happen in only two or three seconds. I devote my full attention to that, so if you're trying to get me to listen to you while I'm driving, just forget it. I have more important things on my mind, and you can tell me later, after the car is stopped. But if you think maybe I didn't notice something on the road, the thing to do is hold your hand up where I can see it and point to a potential problem. That's the only way to get my attention while I'm driving, unless the road is very smooth, wide, and straight, and there are no other vehicles around. Motorcycle? Bicycle? That's what I'm watching the most.

In a way, it's like a phobia with me. I learned it from a few brushes with near death, and from driving paying passengers to and from the airport. I always acted very professional about it, and the first time I gave my notice that I was ending my employment with them, the owner told me that I had been the only driver he had ever had that never had a passenger call and complain about. So, when I wanted a job with them again, they created a position for me since they didn't really have an opening at the time. Nice!

(Hey! You know who you are! Remember me?)

Something that I've thought about many times is that if careful driving, the considered purchase of a vehicle for safety, and seat belt use are inherited characteristics, evolution is happening far, far faster that it ever has before.

But I don't think that's the case, instead I think they are learned behaviors.

FlintlockRifle 6 years, 8 months ago

People texting are dumb but not stupid, if you seen a police car seating beside you would you pick up your phone to text?, need to send out unmarked cars. I see people texting all the time when I'm out on the roads but I'm in my pickup without a star on the door

Tony Kisner 6 years, 8 months ago

Wow, I was reading this article on my phone while driving on K-10 and almost hit a sign post.

Riveting articles on LJW - online version should be outlawed.

conservative 6 years, 8 months ago

Ron if your description of your driving is accurate then you are in the minority. More often than seeing people text i see people trying to merge out of the mcdonalds parking lot while digging in their bag for their burger, looking at the cute blonde in the car next to them, looking at a map that is unfolded and covering a significant part of their field of view. I'm not saying that texting while driving isn't hazardous, just that it is the popular complaint of the new age, and ignores the poor driving by many. Stop beating the drum to crucify texters and Go after all forms of inattentive driving.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 8 months ago

Remove all doubt about it and make using the telephone while driving illegal (period).

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