Officials, programs address distracted driving - KCTV5

Officials, programs address distracted driving

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In an effort to try to keep drivers safe on the road there are laws against texting and driving, but in Kansas that law is becoming difficult for officers to enforce.

In Kansas texting and driving laws are in the books and individual counties and cities have their own ordinances.

Since 2012 through April of last year, the Johnson County Sheriff's Office has only written 26 tickets to texting drivers. In Overland Park, KS, police over the last three years have written 143. In the last year alone the Olathe Police Department has written 112 citations for texting and driving.

Law enforcement is on the case when they see you doing it, but therein lies the problem.

"You know, there's other times it's not so obvious. However, the key point to remember is that it's still reasonable suspicion for an officer to stop you, if you're manipulating your phone," said Sgt. Bryan Hill with the Olathe Police Department.

Drivers like Ryan Meyer agree with the law, up to a point.

"I think it's a good idea not to text and drive, but also if you're doing it at a red light or something. Driving, physically driving, yeah, I don't think it's a good idea," said Ryan Meyer of Olathe, KS.

With the difficulty in enforcement comes different strategies from some police departments to strengthen their texting and driving cases.

"We have officers that also wear body cameras and they oftentimes use those body cameras as they're alongside somebody or near a vehicle to just give that other extra piece of evidence that it's really a no-brainer that somebody was using their phone to text," Hill said.

An estimated 421,000 people were injured in a crash involving a distracted driver in 2012. Anyone can make a mistake on the road, but young new drivers don't have experience on their side to help.

One program brings the message to teens about the potential consequences of not making the right choice behind the wheel.

"It definitely wasn't something I considered when I got into the car and didn't put my seat belt on," said Heather Tice of Think First of Greater Kansas City. "Take it from me, spinal cord injuries are rough and life is hard enough. To mix it with a spinal cord injury is not fun."

Getting the real deal from someone who has been there was the focus of Friday's Roadwise program by the Research Foundation held at Research Medical Center. It takes young, newly licensed drivers and those with permits through the various points of the hospital they could go through if they make the wrong decisions behind the wheel.

"We decided it's more important to be preventative, so we don't want them to have to get into an accident or get a ticket or speed, possibly injuring themselves or harm others. We want them to learn, right now, what those effects are," said Amy Kozicki with the Research Foundation.

The most poignant part of the program for teens is hearing from people like Tice who, as a 15-year-old, made the decision to get into a truck driven by her friend, an inexperienced driver who was also 15. The vehicle crashed, leaving Tice a functioning paraplegic who regrets what she did to herself and her family.

"It was kind of unfair to them. They had to help me learn how to do everything. They had to help me while I couldn't do it for myself for a while. And they had to give up a lot of their own life for a good amount of time," Tice said.

The message she conveyed was exactly what St. Pius High School student Malaya Turner got.

"I need to pay more attention to what I'm doing and the people around me and you can go through a normal thing, just make it a good habit," Turner said.

According to the Research Foundation's website, they educate more than 40,000 students through their school-based assemblies. Click here to find out more about the group's efforts.

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