A gold Honda compact crossover pulled up to a traffic light late Thursday morning, directly ahead of Traffic Officer Josh O’Mary’s line of sight. The driver was texting, with both hands on her phone.
When the light turned green, the driver drove off — hands still on her cellphone. When O’Mary pulled alongside the car, she was still texting. The driver didn’t notice him until a few seconds later, when he rolled down his window to wave at her.
She wasn’t the first oblivious driver that O’Mary pulled over that morning, while he sought out distracted drivers for this April’s traffic-violation-of-the-month campaign.
O’Mary parked a white police truck in a lot along Avenue while looking for drivers on their phones. He placed his body camera on the dash, sat back and scanned the road. Minutes later, a driver using her cellphone drove past.
He pulled over several more drivers that morning for fiddling on their phones. Unless drivers are making an emergency call to a public safety agency or health care provider, state law only allows drivers to use phones that are mounted to the dash or the far-left, lower corner of the windshield, and they can only swipe or tap the screen a single time.
Offenders receive a $162 ticket for a first offense and a ticket worth at least $285 for a second offense.
Just minutes before, had pulled up next to the driver of a silver Honda compact car and watched the driver type on his phone. The driver glanced up at O’Mary to the window to capture the offense on film, and continued to type on his phone. There are three types of distracted driving, taking your eyes off the road, taking your hands of the wheel and taking your mind away from driving, O’Mary said. Texting involves all three of those distractions.
“We definitely have traffic issues in our town,” O’Mary said. “There’s only so many resources that we have.”
That’s why he’s working to publicize the department’s new monthly traffic safety program. Each month, officers receive training around a certain issue and are asked to keep an eye out for those violations. O’Mary pointed to a Chicago Tribune article that spotlighted a study from Cambridge Mobile Telematics, which makes driving applications for car insurance companies, that found one in four drivers were on their phones a minute before a crash occurred.
March’s campaign targeted drivers with violations associated with reasons why someone might drive away from the scene of a collision, such as expired registration or proof of insurance, and unlicensed or suspended drivers.
Officers issued 300 traffic citations that month, 187 of which were related to the aforementioned offenses. Forty-two vehicles were impounded, 22 unlicensed or suspended drivers were cited or arrested, and about 10 drivers under the influence were stopped, O’Mary said.