Westerly police to step up enforcement of distracted driving over the weekend

Westerly police to step up enforcement of distracted driving over the weekend


WESTERLY — If you are driving distracted this weekend, local police will be ready and waiting to hand you a ticket.

The Westerly Police Department, in partnership with Rhode Island Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will take part in an enhanced distracted driving enforcement effort beginning Thursday and running through the end of school vacation week. The enforcement will include roving patrols with teams of officers — one to drive, without distraction, while the other serves as spotter — ready to issue tickets to those who are using phones or otherwise driving unsafe due to unnecessary distractions.

Westerly Police Lt. Steven Johnson said the effort is funded through state and federal grants and is part of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month efforts taking place nationwide in April.

“We have seen an increase in accidents and similar increases in the need for investigation. The cause is different in every case, but we are finding that in more cases each year, distracted driving plays a major role in the crash,” Johnson said.

Across the nation in 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported a total of 3,477 people were killed and an additional 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in the U.S. The number of deaths involving cellphones as the distraction is also on the rise, moving from 406 in 2014 to 476 in 2015. Data from 2016 has not been released.

In 2016, Rhode Police crash reports noted that at least 2,225 distractions contributed to crashes and of those, 435 were cellphones.

These figures are alarming, Johnson said, and as a result, the department sough the grant funding to take part in the national initiative. He said the goal is not to issue tickets, but make people think before making the decision to drive distracted or text and drive.

“Five seconds is the average time that your eyes are off the road while texting. At a speed of 55 mph, that is enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded,” Johnson said. “Those five seconds could mean the difference between spending an evening at the movies and spending the evening grieving over the loss of a loved one.”

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