JOHN YDSTIE, Host:
Five states and the District of Columbia have banned the use of handheld phones while driving. But is such a law enforceable anymore? The answer may be found in New York, which is the first state to clamp down on driving and dialing. Six years after the law was passed, Craig Miller decided to see if it's working.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLICE CAR)
CRAIG MILLER: Even with flashing lights and a siren, Joe Claybaugh finds it hard to get the drivers' attention these days.
JOE CLAYBAUGH: He's paying attention.
MILLER: Claybaugh is a traffic enforcement officer in Camillus, New York, a suburb of Syracuse. Today, he's looking for cell phone violators, and he assures me it won't take long to find one.
CLAYBAUGH: Every second car - you'll see when we get up here. It's unbelievable.
MILLER: Sure enough, we're soon in pursuit of a digital desperado. As it turns out, Joanne Spoto-Decker, a county employee, is a bit desperate.
JOANNE SPOTO: My phone isn't Bluetooth compatible, and I only have one headset, which my husband has. But it was probably not a good thing to do. It wasn't a safe thing to do. It wasn't just - it just wasn't a safe thing to do.
MILLER: Miller: Tom Sherman spends his days on the roads around Syracuse, driving from job to job as a home inspector. His teal green Chevy pickup is his office.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR STARTING)
TOM SHERMAN: We might come out to the vehicle and find 11, 12 phone calls we have to return. So we have to choose between either doing business or following the law, which basically is pretty much ignored by everybody else also. It's kind of looked they're like a jaywalking.
MILLER: Do you see a lot of people when you're driving around with phones?
SHERMAN: Always. And if I'm not speaking on my phone, I'm always complaining about them.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SHERMAN: I would say probably - oh, is that (unintelligible)...
MILLER: And there's another problem. Even traffic enforcement officer Joe Claybaugh thinks the target is too narrow.
CLAYBAUGH: I hate it just being a cell phone. I'd like to see it distracted driving in general. Saw a guy up at the Four Corners down here about a month ago shaving - (makes electric shaver sound) - funny as hell.
MILLER: For NPR News, I'm Craig Miller.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN)
CLAYBAUGH: Here we go again. Now I'm looking in his rearview mirror. He got me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.