Columbus Police Officer Keith Conner is a 19-year law enforcement veteran that you’re either going to love or hate.
If you’re among the throngs of motorists who drive distracted with a cell phone, Conner will be your worst nightmare. If, however, you stand with those who are sick and tired of the carnage left behind by those drivers, Conner is your knight in shining armor.
This Columbus police officer holds the distinction of issuing the most distracted-driving citations and warnings of any police officer in any agency in Ohio, according to the Columbus Division of Police. In the past two-and-a-half years, Conner has issued 661 citations and more than 4,400 warnings to distracted drivers, all while carrying out his regular duties as a Columbus police officer.
Conner’s mission to put a dent in the distracted driving problem began in June 2016 when an elderly gentleman texting on a flip phone ran him off the road and into a bus stop of waiting riders. Later that same day the officer encountered a female distracted driver.
“I could see her coming; her head was down the entire time,” recalled Conner. “She didn’t even catch the curve and she just came right at me head on.
“I had two experiences in one day, and I just said enough’s enough. It’s gotten so far out of control. People are dying.”
Conner started doing some research after his two near misses. The statistics he found on the National Transportation Safety Board website revealed that every day on America’s roads nine people are killed and 1,300 are being injured or seriously maimed due to distracted drivers.
Conner doesn’t believe those numbers.
“They’re saying one out of every four accidents is cell phone related,” said Conner. “I think it’s probably 50 percent or more. That is my professional opinion, because for someone to admit it to a police officer for the crash report is fairly unheard of.”
What Conner sees people doing while driving “is absolutely amazing.” They’re caught watching TV, texting and watching pornography on their cell phones. The majority of distracted drivers are going through their Facebook accounts, according to Conner.
“It absolutely makes me mad,” he said. “It’s like everyone I catch on Facebook, I’m like, ‘You can’t wait to see your friend’s wedding photos until you get home? Really?’ Frankly I’m very short with the people, and I say, ‘Your life and my life are worth more than your friend’s wedding photos.’”
Wonder how Conner sees what he sees? According to the officer, when he has time to patrol the streets, he is looking for those driving with their head down. He’ll then walk up on the passenger side while the driver is stopped at a light. His body cam captures it all.
The infraction comes with a $192 citation. Those who choose to fight the ticket should know that Conner boasts of a near perfect conviction rate thanks to his body cam.
Conner is tough on distracted drivers, especially the ones he encounters who have children in the car.
“You would be surprised at how many parents I get with 13-, 14-, 15-year-old kids in the car and the parent’s on Facebook,” he said. “Your child is going to be driving in a couple of years and for you to tell them don’t touch your phone while they’ve seen you do it all these years is absolutely hypocritical and they’re not going to listen to a word you say.”
Conner has no illusions of single-handedly bringing an end to cell phone distractions.
“It’s got to be a change in society and their perception of how dangerous this has really gotten to be,” he said. “Society is going to have to band together and actually say, ‘You know, enough’s enough.’ It’s an epidemic to me. You’re driving a 5,000-pound piece of machinery. What’s so important that can’t wait?”
Conner sits on the Ohio Department of Transportation’s distracted driving board, which he said hopes to propose a statewide hands-free driving law. They would also like to see points assigned to violators.
“Once points are assigned to it, insurance companies are going to start raising these people’s rates,” explained Conner.
There’s an army of angry Americans fed up with distracted drivers who believe that that day can’t come soon enough.