CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's dangerous, deadly and illegal. Still, in the three years since North Carolina passed the "No Texting and Driving" ban, Highway Patrol has only issued around 5,000 citations.
"I'm surprised they've given out any tickets at all, to be honest with you," admitted N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis.
Troopers say the reason behind the low number isn't that people are putting down the phone and driving. Instead, they claim the law itself makes it tough for them to catch people.
In 2009, North Carolina was one of the first few states to issue a ban on texting while driving. The law only applies to texting and emailing. Using the phone is not illegal. Troopers say they have to be absolutely sure someone is doing one of those two things before they initiate a traffic stop.
"You've got to make sure they aren't looking at contacts, checking the weather, messing with the GPS. Just looking at the phone isn't a crime, you have to be texting" explained Trooper John Burgin, who has only written two citations for texting since 2009.
"It's a difficult citation to write," noted Trooper Alan Noland,"you see the head go down constantly, you see them weaving, but you have to get right up next to them and stay with them to be sure they are in the act of texting. It is dangerous for us too. We have to take our eyes off the road to watch them," said Noland.
Newschannel 36 tested the troopers' claims with our own “Textbusters”, NewsChannel 36 photographers Ken and Pierre. They spent three days driving the streets of Charlotte, searching for texters using the same criteria as troopers.
Ken and Pierre learned firsthand how difficult it really is to determine if another driver is actually texting or not.
We took the troopers' concerns to Tillis. Reporter Dianne Gallagher asked if the current laws are strong enough.
"I don't think they are," answered Tillis,"I think it was a good first step, but it's probably time to do more. I think there are ways to do it without banning cell phones completely. I use blue-tooth in my car."
Recent attempts to beef up the state's texting law haven't gone anywhere. This week, a judge ruled the Town of Chapel Hill's ban on cell phones in the car unconstitutional.
Still, Tillis believes North Carolina lawmakers will have to do something to send a message to troopers and drivers they are serious about the problem. He predicted a hands-free law would be the most likely route for legislators.
"I suspect we will see this come up pretty early in the next session."