Bismarck police officers working a special texting while driving enforcement effort followed one woman for 15 blocks while she drove with her knees and typed out text messages with both hands.
“The ones that we wrote (tickets to) were so brazen about it, it wasn’t even funny,” said Lt. Steve Kilde, who leads the department’s traffic division.
The officers participating in the “texting sting” on Tuesday and Wednesday wrote 31 citations for texting and driving. The officers also arrested two people for driving under suspension, one for driving without liability insurance and two on outstanding warrants, and they wrote two tickets for red light violations, one for speeding and one for failing to use a child restraint.
Prior to the operation, the department had issued 39 tickets for texting while driving since Jan. 1. Five officers worked on the operation on Tuesday, and seven participated on Wednesday.
Bismarck outlawed texting while driving by city ordinance in October 2010, and police started enforcing the ban on Nov. 15, 2010. The North Dakota Legislature passed a statewide texting while driving ban in 2011, which went into effect on Aug. 1, 2011. The fine for the offense is $100.
The ban made a variety of things illegal to do while driving, such as browsing the Internet.
“There’s just a host of things people can be doing on their phones that distracts them from what they should be concentrating on, and that’s their driving,” Kilde said.
He said plainclothes officers in unmarked, high-profile vehicles looked down into other cars and watched drivers to determine whether they were doing something legal, like making a phone call, or something illegal, including texting, searching the Internet or checking Facebook. If they gathered enough evidence to show someone was doing something illegal, uniformed officers in marked vehicles pulled the drivers over.
“I’ll bet there were maybe double that we didn’t get stopped because we weren’t able to establish enough evidence that people were actually texting,” Kilde said.
Deputy Chief Randy Ziegler said 20.84 percent of the people ticketed in the operation were younger than 20, 45.84 percent were in their 20s, 25.01 percent were in their 30s and 8.33 percent were in their 40s. Kilde said most teenagers were in school during the hours when officers did the special enforcement operation.
Ziegler called the results of the operation a “wake-up call” to the people of Bismarck. He said texting while driving diminishes reaction time and puts the public at risk. Kilde called cellphones the top distraction inside cars for drivers. Officers more frequently are listing various distractions as elements of crashes, and numerous people involved in wrecks tell officers that the other party in the crash was texting, he said.
“Nationally, it is absolutely on the rise,” he said about the number of wrecks that involve texting while driving. “It’s definitely a problem.”
Texting has become the primary mode of communication for many people, especially teenagers who may have started texting before they were anywhere near a steering wheel, Kilde said. He said it’s going to take some education, in addition to the enforcement efforts, to make people realize that they should wait to read or send texts until they have arrived at their destinations.
In the meantime, traffic officers plan to do more special enforcement to make people aware of the law.
“We are planning on making it a regular thing,” Kilde said. “We’d like to run at least several of these operations a year.”