Montgomery County officials step up enforcement against distracted driving

By Kaitlyn Foti
Original Article

COURTHOUSE >> Distracted driving will cost you. That’s the message Montgomery County officials came together Monday morning to send to anyone attempting to multitask behind the wheel.

Taking attention away from driving, whether by texting, applying makeup or even brushing your teeth, as District Attorney Kevin Steele said police have witnessed, can cost you at best a $50 citation. At worst, it can cost you your life, or the life of another driver.

“Imagine for a moment that you are blindfolded and running the entire length of a football field while cars are whizzing by you. Seems like a crazy thing to do,” Steele said. “But that’s exactly what someone is doing while texting while driving at 55 miles per hour.”

Local police across Montgomery County have been watching an instructional video specially prepared to encourage officers to be on the watch for distracted drivers. The measure is part of the county’s observance of April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

The video, produced by the police officer education subcommittee of the Montgomery County Safe Driving Task Force, is shown to officers at roll call and teaches techniques to spot and investigate distracted drivers, Abington Chief of Police William Kelly said.

The county is now leading the commonwealth in issuing distracted driving citations.

“We have the most citations of any county across the commonwealth on it, so we want that message to get out that it’s being enforced. If an officer sees you doing it, they can pull you over and they can cite you for it,” Steele said.

In 2014, distracted driving accounted for 1,128 of the county’s 8,106 reportable crashes, according to county officials, second only to inexperienced drivers as the cause of accident.

“These crashes and injuries are a public health problem, and they are a preventable public health problem. If people simply keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, a large number of these crashes can be prevented,” said Commissioner Val Arkoosh, who is serving as interim medical director of the county’s health department.

To combat distracted driving, Chief Kelly said that enforcement alone cannot do the job. He compared the practice to drunk driving, which was once a socially acceptable practice. Now, he said, the same stigma has to be placed on distracted driving.

“Unfortunately, distracted driving really is still acceptable in our society. It’s a small thing, a lot of people think,” Kelly said. “All of these law enforcement leaders are here today to make the point that we are the ones that see the victims of those accidents.”

The District Attorney’s office has provided a resource webpage to help residents learn more about distracted driving and how to discourage the younger drivers in their families from the practice. Arkoosh mentioned her own 16-year-old with a learners’ permit and how she had researched many phone apps that prevent texts or calls while driving.

Setting a good example, however, was mentioned by all three speakers at the press conference as a way to discourage distracted driving.

“I think that we all have to look at ourselves too, and make sure we are setting good examples, for our kids, for our colleagues and for those who are riding in the car with us,” Arkoosh said. “When you look at the data, almost every adult says that at one time or another they have been a little distracted while driving. So I think it’s on all of us to stand up and be responsible to combat this very serious problem.”

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