Kentucky police agencies say the commonwealth’s texting-while-driving statute is well intended, but difficult to enforce.
The law took effect a year ago, but officers issued only verbal warnings for the first six months. Citations and fines have been handed out since Jan. 1, but there were only 144 of them statewide in the first half of this year, according to The Kentucky Enquirer.
Erlanger Police Lt. Kevin Gilpin says his agency’s officers enforce the statute when they see drivers texting, but says it’s difficult to catch people in the act.
The areas where the most citations have been written are the counties where the two largest cities are: Jefferson County leads with 23; Fayette follows with 12.
It’s not hard to spot a texting driver, officials said.
“Following somebody who’s texting is often like following somebody who’s under the influence because they’re not paying attention,” said Boone County Sheriff’s spokesman Tom Scheben.
But to cite someone for the offense, an officer has to see the driver texting – not just using their phone.
“We might have an idea, but it’s one of those things that it is hard to prove,” Gilpin said. “We have to have proof that was happening, not just a hunch.”
In six months, Boone County Sheriff’s deputies and Erlanger police have each cited three drivers while Edgewood Police, Covington Police and Alexandria Police have each issued one citation.
Under the law passed by Kentucky’s legislators, drivers cannot “write, send, or read text-based communication using a personal communication device.” That includes text messages, instant messages and e-mail.
The law has exemptions, such as for reporting illegal activity and to request emergency help.
In early January, 22-year-old Elizabeth Burrous became the first person in northern Kentucky to be cited for texting while driving.
“I was actually making a phone call,” Burrous said in an interview, but she didn’t argue with the officer and paid the fine.
Despite the citation, Burrous said she supports the law.
“I definitely think it’s something that’s not safe,” she said. “I think the new law is probably for the best.”
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