Who hasn’t glanced out the car window and seen another driver, head down, texting furiously? That was the genesis of a story by Boston-based reporter Denise Lavoie, who took an authoritative nationwide look at the texting-while-driving scourge and law enforcement’s losing battle to stop it.
Lavoie did spot checks with a handful of states around the country, as well as interviews with federal transportation officials and others. Her reporting – AP’s first major attempt to grasp the scope of the problem – found that police are fighting a losing battle despite adopting some pretty creative methods to catch serial texters in the act.
"It's everyone, kids, older people — everyone”
Among those trying to stop drivers from messing with their smartphones is Matthew Monteiro, a police officer in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, who patrols on a bike and sneaks up on texters to write them $105 tickets. "It's everyone, kids, older people — everyone,” he told Lavoie.
From the outset, she faced some challenges. For starters, what exactly is "texting?" Is it sending an SMS? Reading a Facebook post? Thumbing through a Spotify playlist? Lavoie needed to define her terms – and research how states and counties define them – to draw apt comparisons and conclusions.
Her story was paired with photos by Boston photographer Steven Senne, video by Rodrique Ngowi in Boston and Seattle’s Manuel Valdes, and a glance detailing anti-texting laws and violation statistics in five key states.
The package, released in time for Labor Day weekend, when Americans take to the highways in droves, was timed for ultimate impact. It scored impressive play in newspapers and on websites across the U.S., and touched off some lively sharing and discussion on social media.
For giving readers a comprehensive and highly engaging look at what authorities agree is fast becoming a public safety crisis, Lavoie wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.