Lexington police and other agencies statewide will start cracking down Tuesday on texting and driving.
A two-officer team — a driver and an officer to spot texters — will patrol Lexington in search of people text ing and driving. A $20,000 federal grant will fund overtime, allowing a texting patrol team to work two shifts every day, police Lt. J.J. Lombardi said.
Lexington police are among five Kentucky law enforcement agencies — the others are Louisville, Paducah, the city of Frankfort and Franklin County — in a new pilot program to enforce the state's law against texting and driving, said state Transportation Cabinet spokeswoman Lisa Tolliver.
"The intent of the grant is to enforce this law, to abate the number of collisions we've had that were driver inattention related," said Lombardi.
Kentucky's law, which went into effect in 2011, prohibits people from writing, sending or reading text-based communications while driving. That includes text messages, instant messages and emails.
The law does not ban all uses of mobile devices. For example, phones may be used to send text requests for emergency assistance, to access GPS software or directions, or to make a call.
It is against the law for people younger than 18 to use a cellphone while driving.
Of the 2,124 injury collisions in Lexington in 2012, 114 were blamed on distracted driving caused by cellphones. This year, the police department began tracking accidents specifically related to texting. Those numbers will not be available until the end of the year, Lombardi said.
Lombardi said police have not cited large numbers of people for texting while driving because it's hard to tell whether someone is texting, looking up contacts or following GPS directions.
There have been 80 cases in Fayette District Court since January 2011 involving texting while driving.
As of Monday, according to the most recent data available from the state Administrative Office of the Courts, 483 cases had been filed statewide in district courts in 2013. That compares with 588 cases in 2012 and 333 in 2011.
The fine for a first offense is $25, Lombardi said. Later this year, Kentucky drivers will lose three points on their licenses when they are convicted of texting while driving under a new state regulation. Adult drivers may have their licenses suspended if they lose a total of 12 points during a two-year period.
Lombardi said he did not know how long the extra patrols would last, but he anticipated the effort would continue for at least the first 10 days in October, after which police will see how much grant money is left.
If the crackdown is successful, the program could be implemented statewide, Tolliver said.
"Right now we are just testing the waters to see what happens," she said.