More drivers than ever text and drive

In a recent study conducted by AT&T, nearly half of all commuters polled admitted to texting and driving. And 43 percent of those drivers who admitted to texting and driving actually went as far as calling it a habit.

But local law enforcement officials want drivers to know they're watching you, your eyes, and your hands from all angles trying to catch you in the act.

And authorities are hoping the threat of getting a ticket will be enough to discourage you from texting and driving.

But despite the obvious dangers, for many drivers, especially commuters with smart phones, the temptation is overwhelming.

Mark Barone of Warwick admits, "I'm totally guilty of it. (While holding a pretend phone up high to look at it, and grabbing a pretend steering wheel Barone said) I guess I try to do the one where you hold it up in the air and you're driving. I know it's not good, but I still do it."

And it's not just actual 'texting' taking drivers eyes off the road these days.

Many people NBC 10 spoke with admitted to checking Facebook posts, scrolling through Tweets, zooming in on photos, or even reading entire emails.

And for some, even the threat of hefty fines isn't enough to convince them to just keep their eyes on the road.

"Well, I guess I haven't gotten caught yet, so maybe when I get caught, I'll stop," said Barone.

And that's where the State Police and other law enforcement officials step in.

Capt. Frank Castellone of the Rhode Island State Police said, "Anything that will distract a driver from doing anything other than operating the motor vehicle, creates danger for himself and other people out on the road."

The grim reality is that texting and driving can be truly deadly. According to the Department of Transportation in 2010 alone, more than 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving crashes nationwide.

But still, on a weekday, in just 30 minutes time, NBC 10 saw driver after Providence driver texting and driving.

In that short time period, NBC 10 caught a total of six drivers blatantly texting while behind the wheel.

We caught one motorist looking down at his phone, then slipping it back into his pocket when the light turned green.

Another driver could also be seen looking down at her phone for quite some time at a stop light, and then looking up to continue driving long after the light had already turned green. But it was what the man NBC 10 caught downtown driving a Toyota 4Runner who's texting and driving was the most shocking.

He can be clearly seen, on tape, staring at his phone for 28 seconds while the camera rolled. Then, after the 28 seconds elapsed, he even pulled out into an intersection, while still fully looking down at his phone.

Capt. Castellone said "We take it very seriously," Castellone said. "The first offense is $80, second $100, then every offense after that is a $120 fine," he said.

And while the revenue the state gets for handing out texting and driving violations is a nice bonus, Castellone said keeping motorists safe is the main goal.

And the dangers of the practice are evident in some of the statistics. Department of Transportation research shows that texting while driving creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.

So, disturbing numbers like that have both Rhode Island and Massachusetts State Police stepping up their patrols to catch you in the act.

"It's a violation that we write daily, we also have directed patrols," Castellone said.

In Massachusetts, some troopers regularly sit above the traffic on highway overpasses, radioing to another officer up ahead and down below to ticket the driver.

In Rhode Island, troopers find a place with a good view, and wait.

NBC 10 embarked on a 2-hour long 'targeted texting and driving patrol' with Sgt. John Keenan of the Rhode Island State Police.

While scanning traffic for violators Sgt. Keenan said, "I'm just trying to see if they're, if we can see them actually punching into the key pad or if they keep looking down, back and down at the device, and then back up at the road and on and on."

And despite the heavy after school traffic, it didn't take us long to find our first offender in Johnston.

"I got caught texting and driving, and absolutely I will rethink it. It's dangerous, and I could have hurt somebody else doing it," said Kasey Wild of Greeneville.

In just over 90 minutes of patrolling, police caught a half dozen drivers tapping, reading, or scrolling away on their phones while behind the wheel.

"I know it's a distraction! I wasn't doing it. I was scrolling through my cell phone looking for my Dad's phone number, I wasn't texting," one woman said to NBC 10 while she was being pulled over on the side of the road in Johnston.

Another man said, "I work for a company where this (traffic stop for texting and driving) could cost me my job if I got a ticket."

And new research shows that now commuters are actually texting and driving at a higher rate than teens.

That's why AT&T and other providers have created an app designed to help remove that temptation.

"It's called 'Drive mode,' and it's available for free from AT&T. You can download it onto the phone said Mark Corpus, AT&T's Rhode Island Retail Sales Manager. "And what it does is, it prevents you from texting out at all, and it also won't alert the phone while you're driving," he said.

Corpus said the app only kicks in to disable your phone once your vehicle reaches 25 mph.

While sitting in the passengers' seat of a vehicle on the highway Corpus used two phones to demonstrate the effectiveness of the 'Drive Mode' app.

While holding both phones he said, "Right now, I'm trying to call this phone, and the app is on, and it's not picking up, it's not even alerting this phone at all."

Corpus said some drivers have admitted that it took downloading the app to their phone to truly get them to 'stop' texting and driving by taking away the option completely.

Capt. Castellone reminds drivers that it is not legal to text, type or read at a stop light or stop sign. He said the same goes for holding your phone or GPS in your hand and continuously looking down at it, and then back up at the road.

Anything that takes your eyes away from the road is considered 'distracted driving,' and is illegal he warned.