West Bridgewater police today mark a one-year anniversary in their effort to curb distracted driving, but admit the lure of the smartphone remains strong.
The first of the department’s five crackdowns targeting drivers suspected of texting while driving on busy Route 106 was held on Jan. 9 last year, and the number of drivers pulled over and cited decreased markedly by the last session on Oct. 29.
But the problem persists.
“To a certain extent, it’s what people do,” said police Lieutenant Victor Flaherty, who owns a smartphone himself. “They’re not going to stop.”
Flaherty said the efforts began after he determined that about 80 percent of accidents on Route 106 were rear-end collisions.
“That told me that drivers were distracted and unaware what was going on in front of them,” he said.
In the crackdowns, some drivers pulled over were making calls or using a GPS, which are allowed under state law except for drivers under 18, but others were texting or checking e-mail, using a Web browser, or checking social media accounts, which are all prohibited.
Over the year, 337 drivers were pulled over on suspicion of violating the law, and 176 citations were issued. In the last session on Oct. 29, 33 people were pulled over and just 15 citations issued.
The citations carry a fine of $100 for first-time offenders, with a 60-day license suspension for those under age 18. The citations are also considered surchargeable offenses for car insurance purposes.
The police initiative against texting also included using Arbella Insurance’s “Distractology 101,” a 36-foot-long, neon yellow mobile classroom outfitted with high-tech driving simulators, to give new drivers at West Bridgewater Middle-Senior High School a real-life look at the potentially disastrous effects of distracted driving.
There were educational seminars on distracted driving at the high school, and digital signs on Route 106 at both ends of town warning drivers they were being observed.
Drivers who were stopped during the five roadside sessions were also given the option, with the collaboration of Brockton District Court Clerk/Magistrate Kevin Creedon, of having their citations dismissed if they attended a distracted-driving seminar, and about half took advantage, according to Flaherty.
He said the efforts will continue this year, even though the cost of deploying officers for anti-texting patrols is more than the amount of revenue brought into the town from the traffic citations.
“The idea is to educate, not prosecute,” he said. “It actually isn’t cost-effective.”
Rich Fahey can be reached at email@example.com.