The next time your cellphone dings on the highway, think twice before reading your message: State and federal authorities are ramping up the war on texting in 2013:
- You're more likely to get caught. Federal dollars will underwrite the cost of spotters who point out texting drivers to officers down the road.
- You're likely to face a steeper penalty. Those federal dollars will reward states that increase penalties for repeat offenders.
- You're more likely to see a car insurance hit. More states have begun to treat texting as a moving violation, the same as they do speeding.
Texting laws remain a hodgepodge -- 11 states don't even ban it, and some of the rest don't allow police to pull you over solely for texting -- but the trend remains clear.
How will they catch me?
While enforcement of texting laws can be difficult, some officers say it is getting easier as drivers become more blatant.
"Drivers don't seem to even think about it anymore," says Sgt. Paul Paulos of the St. Paul, Minn., Police Department. "In fact, many drivers have become quite obvious.""Obvious" includes drivers holding the phone in front of their faces, he says, or staring intently at their laps. And then there is the not-so-obvious: Texting drivers hesitate at traffic lights, weave or drift out of a lane, and drive below the speed limit. Any of those behaviors could result in a traffic stop. But the federal government is stepping in to help police find better ways to enforce texting laws. A U.S. Department of Transportation pilot project will test new enforcement methods in Connecticut and Massachusetts. One tactic involves putting spotters on overpasses to flag texting drivers for patrol cars down the road. Another approach is roving officers using unmarked high-riding SUVs to peer into cars, catching texters in the act. (Tennessee has already put unmarked SUVs on the road in texting hotspots.) California and Delaware have also been awarded funds to ramp up enforcement and publicize the result. The first wave resulted in 4,753 tickets in early December, and two more "maximum enforcement" periods are planned in 2013.