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Challenges of enforcing cell phone use while driving laws among police: a qualitative study

Abstract

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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