SHERIFF'S CORNER: April is Distracted Driving month

It started with the bag phone, then to the "Zack Morris" brick phone, to the Palm Pilot, then to the Blackberry, then mobile GPS units, to eventually the smartphone that pretty much does everything.

It has become a staple of everyday life. It has made things easier, but it has also made people dumber. People can no longer read a map, nor can they find a place without GPS.

As most may not know, April is distracted driving month. A time to focus on those who are driving while using a cellular device in an unsafe manner.

In the edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I talk about distracted driving and it's impact on driving and it's risks.

(Some of this content is taken from a memo from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.)

DEFINITIONS

Let's first start with what the law says:

MCL 257.602b states:

"(1) Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person shall not read, manually type, or send a text message on a wireless 2-way communication device that is located in the person's hand or in the person's lap, including a wireless telephone used in cellular telephone service or personal communication service, while operating a motor vehicle that is moving on a highway or street in this state. As used in this subsection, a wireless 2-way communication device does not include a global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the motor vehicle."

There are a few exceptions:

"(4) Subsections (1) ...do not apply to an individual who is using a device described in subsection (1) ...to do any of the following:

(a) Report a traffic accident, medical emergency, or serious road hazard.

(b) Report a situation in which the person believes his or her personal safety is in jeopardy.

(c) Report or avert the perpetration or potential perpetration of a criminal act against the individual or another person.

(d) Carry out official duties as a police officer, law enforcement official, member of a paid or volunteer fire department, or operator of an emergency vehicle."

And the penalty:

"(6) An individual who violates this section is responsible for a civil infraction and shall be ordered to pay a civil fine as follows:

(a) For a first violation, $100.00.

(b) For a second or subsequent violation, $200.00."

TEXTING AND DRIVING CAMPAIGN

The Lake County Sheriff's Office will be joining forces across the country this week to intensify enforcement of state and local texting and distracted-driving laws, and to raise awareness about the dangers — and legal implications — of distracted driving. This annual campaign is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) national U Drive. U Text. U Pay. high-visibility enforcement effort that runs April 8-12.

According to the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center (CJIC), in Michigan in 2019 there were 18,096 distracted driving crashes, resulting in 70 fatalities. Nationwide in 2019, the number of fatalities linked to driver distraction was 3,142, or almost nine percent of all fatalities that year. This included 566 non-occupants (pedestrians, bicyclists, and others) killed in crashes involving a distracted driver.

Over the years, millennials have become some of the biggest texting-while-driving offenders, also using their cell phones to talk and scroll through social media while behind the wheel. According to NHTSA, young drivers 16- to 24-years-old have been observed using handheld electronic devices at higher rates than older drivers since 2007. In fact, in 2019, 9% of people killed in teen-driving crashes (ages 15-19) died when teen drivers were distracted at the time of the crash. Female drivers are most at-risk for being involved in a fatal crash involving a distracted driver.

Every day, we see drivers who haven’t gotten the message that using their cell phones while they drive is illegal, and puts every other road user at risk. We all know the dangers associated with distracted driving. Whether it’s eating and drinking behind the wheel, using GPS, talking to other vehicle passengers, or using the cell phone, it’s all dangerous when you’re driving.

We are determined to impress upon these drivers: Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

An analysis by the AAA Foundation of 2009-12 data found that while more than 80% of drivers believed it was completely unacceptable for a motorist to text behind the wheel, more than a third of those same drivers admitted to reading text messages while operating a passenger motor vehicle themselves.

Remember, texting and driving is dangerous and illegal, but people do it anyway, and it puts others at risk. Beginning April 8, you will see increased law enforcement efforts, as officers will be stopping and ticketing anyone who is caught texting and driving. And we are not trying to rack up citations — we are trying to save lives. If you text and drive, you will pay.

SOME STATISTICS

• In Michigan in 2019, October was the month with the most distracted driving crashes (1,800).

• In Michigan in 2019, Friday was the day with the most distracted driving crashes (3,099).

• In Michigan in 2019, the hour between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. accounted for more distracted driving crashes (1,738) than any other hour.

• Texting while driving is dangerous and deadly for the driver, passengers, and other road users. In Michigan, it’s illegal. Today and every day.

• Texting while driving may cost you more than just a ticket — it may cost you your life.

• An estimated 400,000 people were injured nationwide in distracted driving crashes in 2018.

SAFETY TIPS

I want you to put your phone down when you get behind the wheel. If you need to text, then pull over and do not drive. If you’re driving, follow these steps for a phone-free experience:

• If you are expecting a text message or need to send one, pull over and park your car in a safe location. Once you are safely off the road and parked, it is safe to text.

• Designate your passenger as your “designated texter.” Allow them access to your phone to respond to calls or messages.

• Do not engage in social media scrolling or messaging while driving.

• Cell phone use can be habit-forming. Struggling to not text and drive? Put the cell phone out of reach in the trunk, glove box, or back seat of the vehicle until you arrive at your destination.

• Reduce distraction by silencing your phone while driving.

For more information, visit trafficsafetymarketing.gov.

— This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. Topics covered are for educational and informational purposes only. As needed, excerpts from other articles are used for reference and/or content. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you may always email me your questions to rmartin@co.lake.mi.us.