Police Losing Battle To Get Drivers To Put Down Their Phones

State police in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have been known to patrol in a tractor-trailer so they can sit up high and spot drivers texting behind the wheel.

In Bethesda, Maryland, a police officer disguised himself as a homeless man, stood near a busy intersection and radioed ahead to officers down the road about texting drivers. In two hours last October, police gave out 56 tickets.

And in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, south of Boston, an officer regularly tools around town on his bicycle, pedals up to drivers at stoplights and hands them $105 tickets.

Texting while driving in the U.S. is not just a dangerous habit, but also an infuriatingly widespread one, practiced both brazenly and surreptitiously by so many motorists that police are being forced to get creative -- and still can't seem to make much headway.

"It's everyone, kids, older people -- everyone. When I stop someone, they say, 'You're right. I know it's dangerous, but I heard my phone go off and I had to look at it,'" said West Bridgewater Officer Matthew Monteiro.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates nearly 3,500 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in the mainland U.S. and Puerto Rico in 2015, up from almost 3,200 in 2014. The number of deaths in which cellphones were the distraction rose from 406 in 2014 to 476 in 2015.

But many safety advocates say crashes involving cellphones are vastly underreported because police are forced to rely on what they are told by drivers, many of whom aren't going to admit they were using their phones.

"You don't have a Breathalyzer or a blood test to see if they are using their phones," said Deborah Hersman, president and chief executive of the National Safety Council and former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "Certainly, law enforcement can ask people, 'Can...

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