Police across Tennessee are writing few citations under the year-old texting-while-driving law.
The statute went into effect in July 2009, allowing officers to write tickets to drivers they catch sending cell phone text messages while operating vehicles. The fine for violations is $50.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol allowed a six-month grace period and began enforcement on Jan. 3, said Tennessee Department of Safety spokeswoman Dalya Qualls.
The Tennessean reported state troopers issued 88 citations in the first half of 2010 and Metro Nashville Police have cited 19 drivers since the statute became effective.
Knoxville and Chattanooga officers haven’t written any citations under the statute.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Memphis police have used the statute.
“It is extremely hard to determine if indeed the driver is texting or dialing,” said Memphis police spokeswoman Officer Karen Rudolph. “The officer would have to witness the violation and the violator would have to admit that they were actually texting before a citation is issued.”
That doesn’t mean texting drivers need not be concerned about being caught. Knoxville Police write citations under an older districted driving statute.
“It’s anything that would take your attention away from driving and that would include texting,” Darrell DeBusk said Tuesday.
Enforcement is also based on observation, such as a car being operated erratically, he said.
Asked why the Chattanooga city police department hasn’t cited any drivers, Sgt. Jerri Weary replied, “They (drivers) haven’t admitted that is what they were doing or we would have to be able to prove it.”
State Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, an early proponent of the ban on texting behind the wheel, said the fine isn’t the real deterrent — persuasion is.
“Now you can tell someone, ‘This is against the law. Don’t do it. You could harm someone else,”‘ she said.
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