The next time you’re in traffic and see somebody staring down, phone in hand, there’s almost no way that person is getting pulled over — unless they’re in South Philly.
Five years after Pennsylvania passed a law forbidding texting while driving, just over 800 people have been ticketed for it in Philadelphia, according to police records. That’s about 170 tickets per year — not many, considering the hundreds of thousands of drivers who pass through Philadelphia on an average day.
As this heat map shows, the highest amounts of those tickets were issued in South Philadelphia, primarily east of Broad. (This data excludes texting tickets issued on highways, as they don’t have exact coordinates and could not be mapped.)
The next-highest amounts of texting while driving tickets were given out in the middle of Center City, in proximity to to Broad Street.
Yet none of these numbers are very high. In 2012 and 2013, the first years the action was illegal, 71 tickets were issued in the police department’s 3rd District, which consists of the area of South Philly below Lombard Street and east of Broad. Since then, the totals have gone down significantly, with no more than a dozen tickets being issued annually the last four years.
Here’s how the data look in a table, broken down by police district (tickets issued on highways are not included here, either):
Texting tickets by Police District
|District||Tickets issued 2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||2017|
|1 (South Philly West of Broad)||7||2||0||3||3||0|
|2 (Lower Northeast)||6||4||6||11||1||0|
|3 (South Philly, east of Broad)||51||20||11||9||4||0|
|6 (Center City East)||16||11||17||23||11||3|
|7 (Far Northeast)||5||0||7||11||1||3|
|8 (Far Northeast)||4||5||16||14||4||1|
|9 (Center City West)||2||4||3||3||4||5|
|12 (Southwest Philly)||11||4||1||0||2||3|
|15 (Lower Northeast)||4||0||5||4||0||1|
|16 (West Philly)||1||4||3||3||0||0|
|18 (West Philly)||8||10||6||3||3||6|
|19 (West Philly)||8||9||8||10||1||5|
|22 (Lower North Philly)||3||3||3||4||3||11|
|24 (North Philly)||7||10||12||11||3||0|
|25 (North Philly)||7||6||7||10||2||0|
|26 (RIver Wards)||5||2||3||2||1||3|
|35 (North Philly)||2||3||3||4||1||0|
|39 (Lower Northwest)||3||3||1||10||0||1|
Since Pennsylvania’s texting while driving law went on the books, the numbers of distracted driving crashes and deaths have actually increased. In four years, per PennDOT, the metric jumped from a 2012 count of 14,633 crashes and 53 deaths to 16,036 crashes and 61 deaths last year. (Distracted driving also covers actions other than texting, such as talking to passengers or talking on the phone.)
Jay Anderson, executive director of Stay Alive, Just Drive, puts the dangers of texting while driving on par to the dangers of driving while intoxicated. From 2011 to 2015, more than 20,000 people were arrested in Philadelphia for DUI. And in 2015, 629 distracted driver crashes occurred in Philly, compared to 582 alcohol-related crashes.
That means distracted driving has led to arguably greater negative consequences than impaired driving. And yet texting while driving has barely been enforced.
“We’re not as a society,” Anderson said, “treating it the same way as we treat a DUI.”