PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. — It’s a sunny, sweltering September afternoon in Prairie Village, where Officer Mark Brown scans the roads, scrutinizing the drivers who pass by.
“It’s real obvious when you see it,” he said.
Suddenly, Brown spots what he’s looking for, a driver with two hands on his phone instead of the steering wheel.
“The reason I stopped you is because you appeared to be texting and driving,” he tells the driver of the blue pickup truck he pulled over.
“If you are texting and driving in the city of Prairie Village and you’re seen by a cop, you should expect to be stopped,” Sgt. Eric McCullough explained.
One of the department’s two motorcycle patrol officers recently retired, so the city’s 2016 number dropped to 157 tickets, down from previous figures in the 300 range. Their number is still much higher than Leawood’s 98 tickets and Kansas City, Kansas/Wyandotte County’s combined 19 tickets issued for texting and driving last year.
When you cross state lines, the law and the data completely change. In Missouri, you only have to put your phone down if you’re under 22 or driving a commercial vehicle. The stakes there are higher with a $200 fine, but the numbers of tickets law enforcement has issued are lower.
The highest number of tickets issued by the Missouri Highway Patrol in one year was just 81 in 2014.
On top of low enforcement numbers statewide, cities like KCMO, Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs don’t have texting and driving ordinances at all.
“What we do is we cite you for what you did while you were on the phone,” KCPD Sgt. Bill Mahoney explained.
In Kansas City, officers can’t cite you specifically for texting and driving, but they can write you a ticket for weaving in and out of lanes and mention you were on the phone. Judges can then decide what to do with that information.
Back in Prairie Village, Officer Brown prints out a ticket for the driver of the blue pickup truck and hands it to him, reminding the man to drive carefully.
His hope is that eventually, the tickets he hands out will discourage people from picking up their phones while behind the wheel.
“A lot of people won’t do something until they’re hit in the pocketbook. I’m not out here to get money, I just want people to stop texting,” he said.