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Distracted driving can put yourself, others in danger

Glance at phone messages while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle? Even worse, try to respond?

That’s not just illegal in Michigan — it could prove to be deadly.

Law enforcement agencies in the state and across the country will try to make the dangers of such behavior clear this week in support of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April.

This annual campaign is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” high-visibility enforcement effort that runs from today through Monday.

According to the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center, the state in 2019 had 18,096 distracted driving crashes, resulting in 70 fatalities. Nationwide in 2019, the number of fatalities linked to driver distraction was 3,142, or nearly 9% of all fatalities that year. This included 566 non-occupants — pedestrians, bicyclists and others — killed in crashes involving a distracted driver.

“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,” said Michael L. Prince, director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning. “Whether it’s texting, eating, drinking, using GPS or talking to other passengers, it’s all dangerous while driving.”

Also, continuing through April 26, Michigan State University researchers will work 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.

“Distracted driving, and cell phone use specifically, continue to be significant traffic safety concerns nationwide,” said Dr. Peter Savolainen, MSU foundation professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “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 are the Detroit Police Department, MSP Second District, Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, Grand Rapids Police Department, Wyoming Police Department, MSP 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, Wayne County had 188 fatal or serious injury distracted driving crashes and Kent County 128, the highest two 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 U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and enforcement will be coordinated by the OHSP.

For more information about distracted driving, go to www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov.

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