Delaware State Police cracking down on distracted driving

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Delaware State Police Cpl. Chris Garcia pulls over a car Thursday on Del. 1 in Kent County after a DSP spotter saw the driver talking on his cellphone without a hands-free device. (Provided)

Delaware State Police Cpl. Chris Garcia pulls over a car Thursday on Del. 1 in Kent County after a DSP spotter saw the driver talking on his cellphone without a hands-free device. (Provided)

In Delaware, it’s illegal to use your phone without a hands-free device while driving. It’s also illegal to text and drive. And yet, drivers still do both.

Recognizing that this is becoming a serious problem in the state, Delaware State Police are now patrolling the roads in unmarked cars, looking for drivers breaking the state’s distracted-driving laws.

“The Delaware State Police would like to inform motorists that April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Driving needs your full attention, and one quick look at a cell phone or a glance at the radio can divert your attention away from the roadway and lead to a crash,” said Sgt. Richard Bratz, police spokesman. “Public safety on our roads is a top priority.”

Bratz said troopers have gone out twice as part of the enforcement effort – on March 29 and April 12. So far, 30 drivers have been ticketed for using their phone while driving. Fines start at $100 for a first offense and go up to $300 for subsequent offenses.

 

Delaware State Police Sgt. Tony Mendez gives parting instructions to (from left) Cpl. Michael Morgan, Cpl. Chris Garcia, Cpl. Mike Fezza, Trooper Kyle Marvel and Cpl. James Smith, who all were a part of a distracted driving operation Thursday in Kent County. (Provided)
Delaware State Police Sgt. Tony Mendez gives parting instructions to (from left) Cpl. Michael Morgan, Cpl. Chris Garcia, Cpl. Mike Fezza, Trooper Kyle Marvel and Cpl. James Smith, who all were a part of a distracted driving operation Thursday in Kent County. (Provided)

“I can tell you that we see people using both hands while they’re texting. We see people on the phone, switching it from one ear to the other, texting one handed, or it’s down on their lap,” Bratz said. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “over 3,000 were killed across the country in motor vehicle crashes involved in distracted driving in 2016. And I know texting while driving has become especially problematic trend among millennials, young drivers from 16 to 24 years of age, using handheld electronic devices while driving at higher rates [of speed] than older drivers since 2007.”

State troopers are partnering with the Delaware Office of Highway Safety in this initiative.

“This is something that’s been tried in Georgia, and it was very successful there, so we’re trying to replicate the program here on a limited basis in Delaware,” said Mitch Topal, Delaware Office of Highway Safety spokesman.

“We’ve been looking at a fairly good increase in distracted-driving crashes and fatalities, not just here in Delaware, but nationwide since 2012. And that’s a substantial increase, and we’re just actually trying to reverse that trend by using some nontraditional enforcement methodologies,” he said.

Reflecting the nationwide trend, Topal said, distracted-driving crashes in the First State have spiked 51 percent from 2012 to 2016.

In addition to using unmarked cars, he said the state is also pushing a new marketing campaign with the theme, “Don’t be the you, you hate.”

“It’s one of those things that everybody sees somebody on their phone when they’re driving, it kind of irks a lot of people, yet everybody does it,” Topal said.

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