Impacts of cellphone use while driving in Warren County

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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) -- Whether it be an area of high traffic on Scottsville Road, or a seemingly quiet two-lane street near WKU's campus, local law enforcement officers say cellphone use while driving is an issue in Warren County.

The span of that issue, according to Deputy Evan Cook with the Warren County Sheriff's Office goes beyond this area. "I think it's everywhere," he tells 13 News.

"This day and age, everyone has a cellphone, and it's highly likely that that cellphone is a smartphone, so it's got texting capabilities, GPS, phone calls -- you name it, it's got it," says Deputy Cook.

When asked how often he sees cellphone violations while making traffic stops, Deputy Cook says, "All too much. In my opinion, personally, I think it's not getting any better," he says, telling 13 News he's been with the sheriff's office around six years.

He goes on to say, "As technology increases, you see everyone with a cellphone. In my off time, you drive around and everybody -- not everybody -- but a lot of people, have a phone up to their face. Younger kids are getting phones sooner than we did when we were younger, so, I would say for the most part, it's getting a little worse. Years ago, there weren't these laws prohibiting this kind of stuff and now they're getting more strict to help with that."

In the state of Kentucky, there are different restrictions on phone use in a vehicle depending on the age of the driver.

"For anyone over 18, you're allowed to make phone calls, you're allowed to use GPS. The statute simply prohibits you from sending, receiving, [or] writing any kind of text-based communication," says Deputy Cook.

Text-based communication goes beyond just a simple text message. According to Deputy Cook, "That qualifies as texting, emails, any kind of instant messaging, there's all kinds of apps out now. Anything that has that text communication -- that's what's prohibited."

But for those 16 and 17 year old drivers just starting out, Deputy Cook says, "18 and under -- you're prohibited from using a cell phone, period. That qualifies as text messaging, phone calls, also any kind of GPS on your phone. If you're under 18, best case scenario, if you need to use your cellphone, pull over. That's good advice for anyone."

For drivers over 18, "as far as talking on your cell phone, that's perfectly fine. The statute just reads that you're prohibited from any kind of text-based communication," he adds.

A recent study from the University of Iowa found that even talking on the phone can lead to distracted driving -- it doesn't have to be a text message.

Deputy Cook says talking, having other people in your car, and having the radio on can all be distractions. However, in Kentucky, as long as you're over 18, there's only laws prohibiting text-based communication -- not verbal phone calls.

According to Deputy Cook, it's not always easy to tell when drivers are using their phones for a text, or if it's for something like typing in directions.

"It's a little difficult to determine if they're using it in a manner that's a violation. However, a lot of times, when people are using those devices how they're not supposed to be, they're driving in a manner that's unsafe for other motorists. That may be a careless driving [or] wreckless driving offense, so, a lot of times, we've got probable cause based on their driving habits, not just how they're using their cellphone," he explains.

From working in the field, Deputy Cook says, "You have people all the time when we work collisions, they run off the road on a curve, especially a dark back road, they'll say, 'I just looked down for a second to change the radio station and I went off the road and couldn't get back on.'"

When asked about the soon-to-be-released Apple update, which, according to the company, will include a "Do Not Disturb While Driving" feature, Deputy Cook tells 13 News, "I think that's a wonderful idea. I think most people can agree, you get a text message and it dings, you know, you can't get to it fast enough. So something like that to let them know you're driving, maybe they'll wait -- wait until you get somewhere -- if you're alerting your friends that you're driving, they're not going to bother you until you get there."

According to the Apple update, whenever an iPhone is connected to a car through Bluetooth or a cable, the new update will block those text-based communications. Apple says phone users have the option to send an automatic reply to contacts listed in "Favorites" to let them know they're driving and can't respond at the moment.

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