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Challenges of enforcing cell phone use while driving laws among police: a qualitative study
  1. Toni Marie Rudisill1,
  2. Adam D Baus2,
  3. Traci Jarrett2
  1. 1 Department of Epidemiology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA
  2. 2 Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Toni Marie Rudisill, Department of Epidemiology, West Virginia University, School of Public Health, Morgantown, WV 26506, USA; trudisill{at}


Background Cell phone use while driving laws do not appear to be heavily enforced in the USA. This study seeks to gain law enforcements’ perspective and learn potential barriers to cell phone law enforcement.

Methods Qualitative interviews (ie, focus groups) were conducted with officers (N=19) from five West Virginia law enforcement agencies. The officers who participated were >18 years of age, sworn into their departments and employed in law enforcement for >1 year. Focus group sessions lasted 45–60 min and followed a standardised, pilot-tested script. These sessions were audio recorded and transcribed. Qualitative content analysis was employed among three researchers to determine themes surrounding enforcement.

Results Four themes emerged including current culture, the legal system, the nature of police work and issues with prevention. Specific barriers to enforcement included cultural norms, lack of perceived support from courts/judges, different laws between states, the need for a general distracted driving law, unclear legislation, officers’ habits and perceived risk, wanting to maintain a positive relationship with the public, not being able to see the driver (impediments of vehicle design, time of day), phones having multiple functions and not knowing what drivers are actually doing, risk of crashing during traffic stops and lack of resources. Prevention activities were debated, and most felt that technological advancements implemented by cell phone manufacturers may deter use.

Conclusions Numerous barriers to cell phone law enforcement exist. Legislation could be amended to facilitate enforcement. Prevention opportunities exist to deter cell phone use while driving.

  • enforcement
  • legislation
  • policy
  • public health
  • qualitative research

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  • Contributors TMR conceived the study. TMR and ADB and obtained the data. All authors processed the data, performed the analysis and drafted the manuscript. All authors had full access to the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. All authors contributed to the manuscript preparation and approved the final version.

  • Funding TMR, AB and TJ all received support from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention grant R49 CE002109. The funding agency had no role in the design of the study, collection, analysis or interpretation of the results or in the writing of this manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval Institutional Review Board approval from West Virginia University, USA, was obtained for this project (protocol #1704562097).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data available.