When it comes to distracted driving, laws have come a long way in a short time. Just two years ago, states were just starting to ban handheld devices, and few more had restricted texting while driving. Now, most states ban texting, and seven have launched strong handheld phone laws. But in many cases, police officers continue having difficulty enforcing these laws, even in states with the best laws against distracted driving. Last week, reporters from Consumer Reports rode along with police officers from Syracuse, NY, which has teemed up with the DOT to boost its campaign against distracted driving. Despite some obstacles, their report emphasized the potential for better future enforcement.

Since both Syracuse and Hartford, CT joined the DOT program last year, they have seen significant results. Halfway through the full program, for example, the DOT witnessed a 56 percent drop in cell phone use in Hartford, and 38 percent drop in Syracuse, while texting dropped 68 percent in Hartford and 42 percent in Syracuse. But in some states, police officers cannot pull someone over for texting while driving, even if it is completely obvious. That’s because states like New York have secondary distracted driving laws, meaning the driver must commit another infraction in order to qualify for a distracted driving ticket.

Consumer Reports found that many police offers strongly supported changing New York’s distracted driving law from secondary to primary. The state now hosts a non-profit called Families Against Texting While Driving that has launched a major push for stronger enforcement in New York State. Speaking about the formation of this group, State Senator Timothy Kennedy said this week that New York’s secondary law is “weak” and “flimsy.” “We need to give the law teeth, and we need to give law enforcement officials the tools they need to crack down on texting drivers,” he added.

Kennedy is right that states need to get better about enforcing strict distracted driving laws. This month, for Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a number of states nationwide boosted their regulations, putting an emphasis on catching more drivers in the act. But since this is a year-long problem, local police agencies should adopt a year-long strategy that will continue to make our roads safer. In the mean time, do your part by agreeing to put down the phone while you’re driving. And if you need help, download one of these great cell phone apps to prevent distracted driving.

Photo credit: Lord Jim