1.3 High-Visibility Cell Phone and Text Messaging Enforcement
Numerous studies demonstrate that HVE can be effective in curbing alcohol-impaired driving and increasing seat belt use among drivers (see Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving, Section 2.1 and Seat Belts and Child Restraints, Section 2.1). NHTSA has examined whether the HVE model could be effective in reducing handheld cell phone use and texting among drivers.
Similar to sobriety checkpoints, the objective is to deter cell phone use by increasing the perceived risk of a ticket. The HVE model combines dedicated law enforcement with paid and earned media supporting the enforcement activity. Law enforcement officers actively seek out cell phone users through special roving patrols or through a variety of enforcement techniques such as the spotter technique where a stationary officer will radio ahead to another officer when a driver using a cell phone is detected. Officers report that higher vantage points, SUVs, and unmarked vehicles are strategies useful in identifying violators (Chaudhary et al., 2014). Both earned and paid media are critical to ensure the general public is aware of the enforcement activity and to increase the perception that being caught is likely.
NHTSA conducted an HVE demonstration project aimed at reducing cell phone use among drivers. The program tagline was: “Phone in one hand. Ticket in the other.” Pilot programs were tested in Hartford, Connecticut, and Syracuse, New York, from April 2010 to April 2011. Law enforcement officers conducted four waves of enforcement during the year. Approximately 100 to 200 citations were issued per 10,000 population during each enforcement wave. Paid media (TV, radio, online advertisements, and billboards) and earned media (e.g., press events and news releases) supported the enforcement activity. For more details about the program, see Chaudhary et al. (2014).
To examine the effectiveness of HVE in larger jurisdictions, NHTSA proceeded to implement an HVE campaign in Delaware and in nine California counties in the Sacramento area. Three waves of enforcement were conducted from November 2012 to June 2013. Paid and earned media were similar to that in Hartford and Syracuse. See Schick et al. (2014) and Chaudhary et al. (2015) for more information.
Observations from the previous demonstration projects in Hartford/Syracuse and California/Delaware reported that relatively few citations were issued for texting while driving. Moreover, feedback from LEOs suggested that enforcing laws prohibiting texting while driving was difficult. In 2012 NHTSA undertook a third demonstration program to determine the enforceability of texting laws and to test methods for enforcing these laws. LEAs in Connecticut and Massachusetts participated in the program. Four waves of enforcement were conducted in each State over 2013 and 2014. The evaluation suggested that having a strong set of distracted driving laws helps with enforcement of texting laws (see Retting et al., 2017).
Use: To date a limited number of States have implemented HVE programs to address talking on cell phones and texting while driving.
Effectiveness: Results from the NHTSA HVE program suggest handheld cell phone use among drivers dropped 57% in Hartford and 32% in Syracuse (Chaudhary et al., 2014). The percentage of drivers observed manipulating a phone (e.g., texting or dialing) also declined. Public awareness of distracted driving was already high before the program, but surveys suggest awareness of the program and enforcement activity increased in both Hartford and Syracuse. Surveys also showed most motorists supported the enforcement activity. Similar reductions in cell phone use were observed following the campaign in California (34% reduction) and Delaware (33% reduction), although decreases were also noted in comparison communities (Chaudhary et al., 2015; Schick et al., 2014). Although these results are encouraging, the effect of HVE campaigns on crashes is not certain. An analysis of crash data from before and after the enforcement period found no effects of HVE on the incidence of distraction-related crashes (Chaudhary et al., 2015). Note that the evidence for effectiveness is based on community and smaller statewide programs that targeted handheld cell phone use. There is no evidence available that HVE programs specifically targeting texting will be as effective.
Costs: High-visibility enforcement campaigns are expensive. They require time from LEOs to conduct the enforcement. In addition, time is needed from State highway safety office and media staff and often from consultants to develop, produce, and distribute advertising, educational material, and other communications tools. In the NHTSA demonstration program, both Connecticut and New York received $200,000 to implement and evaluate the program, and each State contributed an additional $100,000 to the Federal funds. Paid media costs for the program in the two States were over $500,000.
Time to implement: An HVE program requires 4 to 6 months to plan and implement.