Local cop stops: 100 since Jan.

ST. ALBANS — The state’s law prohibiting driving while using a cell phone, known as distracted driving, has been in place for a year, but law enforcement officers are still seeing and stopping drivers with phones in their hands.

“A substantial number of drivers have either chosen to ignore the law or plead naiveté,” said St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor. “I have stopped half a dozen personally in the last month for just flagrant violations.”

Stops conducted by SAPD officers have topped 100 since the first of the year.

The fine for using an electronic device while driving is $162 with no points for the first offense. Doing so in a work zone is $230 and 2 points. SAPD is encouraging everyone to not drive distracted and pull to a safe area before using a cellphone or other device.

Also, as of July 1, a loophole in the law allowing use of cell phones at stop signs and red lights was closed. Use of handheld cell phones on the roadway, even if stopped, is now prohibited. The automobile, with or without engine running, must be pulled off the road in a safe area.

Hands-free use of phones in vehicles is permitted when the phone is in a stationary mounting device. Having a mount attached to the windshield, however, is not permitted under the law.

Distracted driving is a factor in 24 percent of major crashes, said Matt Davidson, head of the Governor’s Highway Safety Commission. The use of phones is the leading cause of distracted driving.

“Distracted driving is dangerous and data shows that,” said Davidson.

The two other top causes of serious crashes are driving under the influence and failure to use seatbelts, said Davidson.

Drivers who were born before the days when nearly everyone carried a cell phone were taught to wear seatbelts and not to drink and drive, but not about the dangers of cell phone use while driving, explained Davidson. “We have to do an extensive public outreach campaign,” he said.

When the law first went into effect the state did public education campaign and there was a decrease in cell phone use while driving. But when the outreach tapered off the rates of cell phone use went up again, said Davidson.

Taylor said his office is doing what they can to alert drivers. “We’re certainly making a concerted effort to get the message out,” he said.

The SAPD has stopped 101 drivers for distracted driving since Jan. 1, issuing 76 tickets and 25 warnings.

Statewide 1,404 tickets were issued for cell phone use during the same period, according to data from the Judicial Bureau. Another 26 were issued for cell phone use in a work zone. Twenty-three junior operators were ticketed for cell phone use.

Davidson urges anyone who needs to make a phone call or read or send a text to pull off the road.

“At 65 mph, it only takes three seconds to travel the length of a football field,” said Davidson. “Think of how far you can travel in three seconds.”