CHICAGO — Data from Chicago police show that the number of tickets officers have issued for distracted driving has plummeted over the last three years.
The Chicago Tribune reports (http://trib.in/2pr41yV ) police gave out 25,884 tickets for motorists using mobile devices in 2015. That number was 186 tickets in 2016 and 24 tickets through April 16 of this year.
A Chicago police spokesman says the department changed its cellphone citation policy in 2015. Cellphone violations now must follow the same process as other traffic violations. That means they require more police time because the violations have to go to traffic court and require the presence of the citing officer to be upheld.
“It's almost like they've completely abdicated any responsibility on this issue,” Deborah Hersman, CEO of the National Safety Council, told the Tribune.
Hersman told the newspaper that the drop in enforcement in Chicago is part of a national trend of police issuing fewer tickets for traffic violations, even as the number of traffic fatalities has jumped 14 percent nationwide in the past two years. But Hersman said she has seen nothing like the enforcement drop in Chicago anywhere else in the country.
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said police amended the cellphone citation policy to conform to a change in state law that mandated that cellphone violations follow the same process as other traffic violations.
Previously, the municipal citations could be upheld before an administrative law judge without the citing officer being present.
Chicago police spokesman Frank Giancamilli said that police take traffic safety seriously and are working with other city agencies on a plan, dubbed Vision Zero to increase awareness and enforcement to eliminate distracted driving. The statement offered no specifics on what police would do.
The city plans to release its plan, part of an international effort to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries, in the next few weeks, according to Transportation Department spokesman Mike Claffey.
Enforcement is dropping even as evidence of the dangers of distracted driving becomes more clear. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that between 2014 and 2015, deaths in crashes tied to distracted driving rose by 8.8 percent, outpacing the increases for unrestrained passengers, speeding or drunken driving.
A study released last month by Cambridge Mobile Telematics, which makes driving applications for car insurance companies, found that almost one in four drivers was using a phone within a minute before a crash.
Under the city ordinance, an individual caught driving while using a mobile device can be fined from $90 to $500. People using hands-free devices, law enforcement officers and people dialing 911 are exempt. Under a state law enacted in 2014, the fine for distracted driving is $75 to $150.