Officials in Madison consider plan to allow officers on buses to look for people texting while driving

MADISON — Officials in Wisconsin’s state capital are considering a plan that would allow law enforcement to ride buses to look for people who are texting while driving.

The proposed contract would allow plain-clothed Dane County Sheriff’s Office deputies to ride on Metro Transit buses in Madison during off-peak hours to search for distracted drivers from a higher vantage point, the Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/2sKdFSH) reported.

Deputies would be the only passengers on the buses and would inform nearby law enforcement of any violations they see, said Sheriff’s Office Sgt. R.J. Lurquin. He said state law prohibits texting will driving, and violators can be fined almost $190.

“We’re not necessarily looking to issue citations to everyone we make contact with,” he said. “We want people to be aware of the law and just worry about driving and texting later.”

Some residents have raised concerns about city-owned buses being used for law enforcement surveillance.

Ald. Rebecca Kemble of the 18th District is a professional taxi driver. She said distracted driving is a big occupational hazard, but that she’s against the city’s buses being used as surveillance vehicles in the community.

The campaign could also hurt the Metro Transit brand, said Margaret Bergamini, a member of Madison’s Transit and Parking Commission.

“That potentially shifts a very important part of our constituency’s perception of our drivers and our vehicles from being a public service to being part of law enforcement,” she said.

Metro Transit General Manager Chuck Kamp said reducing distracted driving is important to bus drivers.

“I look at it as if someone is texting near our vehicles, they are putting our passengers at risk, and so for me, that tips the scale,” Kamp said.

The sheriff’s office hopes to secure federal funding in order to pay for the fuel and overtime wages of bus drivers, Lurquin said.