If you’re going to be behind the wheel over the next week, be forewarned that while it’s never a good time to have your phone in your hand while driving, it could be very costly from now through Monday.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and in support of that awareness drive, law enforcement agencies will be joining forces all across the country to promote enforcement and awareness of state and local texting and distracted-driving laws employing the slogan, “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.”
The annual campaign is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s high-visibility enforcement effort that runs from tomorrow, Thursday, April 8th to Monday, April 12th, 2021.
According to the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center, in 2019 there were 18,096 distracted driving crashes in Michigan, resulting in 70 fatalities. Nationwide in 2019, the number of fatalities linked to driver distraction was 3,142, or nearly nine-percent of all fatalities that year. That included 566 non-occupants, such as pedestrians, bicyclists, and others, who were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver.
Michael L. Prince, Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning Director, warns, “Any activity that takes your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel is extremely reckless and puts you and others on the road at risk,” while adding, “Whether it’s texting, eating, drinking, using GPS or talking to other passengers, it’s all dangerous while driving.”
Also, continuing through April 26th, researchers from Michigan State University will be working with police agencies in Kent and Wayne counties to evaluate methods of enforcing distracted driving and cell phone use violations. During the three-week period, dynamic message signs will be used off-and-on to alert drivers to the highly visible enforcement. Researchers seek to determine if targeted safety messages have any measurable impact on driver behavior.
Dr. Peter Savolainen, MSU Foundation Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, reminds drivers, “Distracted driving, and cell phone use specifically, continue to be significant traffic safety concerns nationwide,” and adds, “This project aims to assess the effectiveness of high-visibility enforcement, in combination with different types of messages that discourage cell phone use by drivers.”
Participating law enforcement agencies include the Detroit Police Department, Michigan State Police Second District, Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, Grand Rapids Police Department, Wyoming PD, Michigan State Police Sixth District, and Kent County Sheriff’s Office. They will conduct up to 1,000 hours of distracted driving enforcement.
Kent and Wayne counties were selected to participate because of their high number of fatal and serious injury crashes. From 2016-2018, there were 188 fatal or serious injury distracted driving crashes in Wayne County and 128 in Kent County, the two highest in the state.
Michigan law prohibits a driver from reading, manually typing, or sending a text message while driving. Exceptions are in place for reporting crashes, crimes, or other emergencies.
The research project is supported with federal traffic safety funds provided by the United States Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and enforcement will be coordinated by the Office of Highway Safety Planning.
For more information about distracted driving, you can visit http://www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov.