AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– Although people who text and drive are 23 more times likely to get in a crash according to transportation authorities, a CBS4 Investigation has found spotty, sometimes non-existent enforcement of Colorado’s much ballyhooed distracted driving law which went into effect in 2009.
Some Front Range police departments have given out hardly any citations for underage cell phone use or texting and driving, while other departments have made it a higher priority.
The law prohibits drivers under 18 from using a cell phone or texting while driving, and drivers over 18 are prohibited from texting or other similar forms of manual data entry or transmission when they are behind the wheel.
But over the last three years, the Aurora Police Department has not written a single ticket to a teenager for cell phone use while driving, and the department has written just five citations to adults for texting while driving.
“Obviously, we are in marked vehicles and people usually tend to follow the rules when they see the police,” said Aurora Police Sgt. Bill Revelle. “It’s just difficult. It’s a difficult violation to specifically enforce.”
Revelle said Aurora officers have had difficulty identifying that a driver is actually texting and he says in many cases, drivers who are using their cell phones end up being cited for another type of violation.
In Lakewood, police have written only one cell phone citation to a teenager in the last three years and have written 32 texting citations to adult drivers.
Steve Davis, a spokesman for the Lakewood police department, said “We’ve got a lot of major crime to concentrate on and texting would certainly be farther down the list of priorities.”
Davis also said texting violations are hard to enforce since most drivers drop their cell phones if they see a marked cruiser nearby. In many cases, Davis said if an officer does spot a texting driver, they will write a different kind of citation like careless driving or speeding which carries heavier fines and penalties.
“I think its quite commonly a secondary violation,” said Davis.
For Shelley Forney, whose daughter was killed by a distracted driver, the numbers were surprising.
“I’m horrified,” said Forney.
A driver on the phone hit and killed her nine year old daughter Erica, prompting the 2009 distracted driving law.
“It’s sad they are not being pulled over and it’s even sadder they are unaware of what they are doing,” said Forney.
Some departments say it’s not particularly difficult to find and cite distracted drivers.
The Denver Police Department has written 165 texting and driving tickets in 2012 alone, thanks in part to a $39,094 federal grant that helps boost enforcement.
“As a law enforcement officer you should be able to find these violations fairly easily,” said DPD motorcycle officer Dan McNulty.
“It’s just a matter of finding the right places and being observant, but as far as being really hard, no, we don’t find it that way.”
McNulty said DPD will typically position an unmarked “spotter” on a ramp above traffic. That observer will then identify distracted drivers and radio other officers who will then pull over and ticket the driver.
Now, the Aurora Police Department said it will make distracted driving enforcement more of a priority. The department told CBS4 they are going to receive a grant to enforce distracted driving and will begin an all out enforcement program.
– Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com