WEST BRIDGEWATER — One by one, drivers on a three-quarter mile strip on busy Route 106 were flagged down by West Bridgewater police officers Thursday afternoon, all having to explain why they were tapping on their cellphone screens while driving.
Many were in the middle of legitimate activities like checking their GPS or making calls.
But then there were the unfortunate ones, like Victoria Emery of East Bridgewater, who admitted to taking a glimpse at her Instagram account while at a red light, not realizing it is a violation of the state’s texting while driving law.
“I think it’s [the scrutiny] a good idea because it really does work, obviously,” said the 19-year-old, while Officer Daniel Sullivan wrote her a $100 citation. “I can’t believe it’s $100. That’s crazy.
“I will just pay it. I’m not going to make a big deal out of it because obviously I shouldn’t be doing it.”
Thursday’s texting crackdown is the third by West Bridgewater police this year along Route 106, which sees about 36,000 drivers daily, said Lieutenant Victor R. Flaherty Jr .
In the three-hour operation involving seven officers stationed on the east and westbound lanes, 35 drivers got citations out of the 68 pulled over, Flaherty said.
Of those cited, one male was under 18; six men were between 18 and 26; six were 27 to 44; and two were over 45. Women outpaced the men, with 10 between 18 and 26 ; five between 27 and 44; and five were over 45.
Crackdowns in January and March along the same strip led to 37 and 44 citations, respectively. Flaherty hopes the police action does not just send a message, but that it gives West Bridgewater a reputation.
“Once you know you’re in West Bridgewater and texting comes to your head . . . you think twice, and if that stops a few accidents or serious injuries, that’s fine,” Flaherty said, while sitting in an unmarked vehicle keeping a lookout for distracted drivers looking down at their laps, or blatantly hoisting their phones up to the steering wheel. He alerted officers stationed up the road that they were coming.
Texting while driving has been banned in Massachusetts since September 2010, carrying a $100 penalty for first-time offenders, in addition to a 60-day license suspension for drivers under 18. The ban includes checking e-mail, using a Web browser, and checking social media accounts, such as Facebook or Twitter.
From September through December 2010, police around the state issued 286 citations for texting while driving. In 2011, the first full year of the law, 1,146 citations were handed out. Last year there were 1,711 violations and this year, as of March 31, there have been 520, according to the state’s Department of Transportation.
The sting came a year after Haverhill teenager Aaron Deveau was convicted of motor vehicle homicide after causing a fatal crash while he was texting and driving in February 2011, when he was 17.
Drivers pulled over Thursday were cooperative with police, willingly showing officers the last activity they performed on their phones.
Among those was Mary LaCivita of Brockton, who was legally using her GPS. She said she looked down to check the phone because the windshield mount she usually uses fell off.
“I think [the scrutiny] is good because I myself try to be more aware of not being distracted by my phone,” said the 40-year-old. “They’re just doing their job.”