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174 The enforcement of texting while driving laws: a national survey of police
  1. Toni Rudisill
  1. West Virginia University


Statement of Purpose While virtually all states have passed testing while driving (TWD) legislation, there is evidence that these laws may be difficult for police to enforce. Thus, a national survey of police was conducted to determine if barriers to cellphone law enforcement exist.

Methods/Approach A web-based survey was developed using Qualtrics software. The survey was assessed for content validity, pilot-tested, and verified for test-retest reliability prior to its release. Police departments from all 50 states were randomly selected and sent an electronic link to the survey via the department’s email or social media pages beginning in mid-November 2019. Frequencies and percentages of responses were assessed.

Results Despite its recent release, several officers (N=27) from numerous states (N=9) have responded. Among respondents, 85% (N=23) claimed that TWD is a serious threat to road user safety. Several officers (44%) report that they issue citations for TWD less than they issue speeding tickets. Nearly 48% reported that TWD citations are difficult to adjudicate (N=13). The largest barriers to enforcement are: narrowly focused laws (56%), laws which permit drivers to engage in some behaviors but not others (85%; e.g. driver is not permitted to text, but allowed to dial a phone number). Many officers (70%) felt drivers do not understand current distracted driving laws. The officers felt that making laws applicable to all licensed drivers (96%), a primary offense (93%), eliminating legal loop holes which permit some behaviors but not others (85%), and making one general law that eliminates any type of hand-held cell phone use could improve TWD enforcement (89%).

Conclusions Numerous barriers to TWD enforcement exist among police. Current legislation could be improved to facilitate enforcement.

Significance and Contribution to Injury and Prevention Science These findings may help direct future policy or interventional efforts to mitigate TWD.

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