Spurred by an epidemic of distracted driving making U.S. roads and highways increasingly deadly, Michigan State Police are implementing a special crackdown on drivers who aren’t paying attention to the road.
According to Flint, Michigan’s WJRT ABC 12, State Police have are testing a method of catching drivers using their smartphones or other portable electronic devices behind the wheel or engaging in any other form of distraction, such as eating, grooming, or tending to a child or pet.
“Operation Ghost Rider” puts two officers in an unmarked car. One officer drives while the other officer keeps an eye out for distracted drivers, many of whom give themselves away by drifting out of their lane, swerving, or driving erratically.
When the team spots a distracted driver, they radio a police officer in a marked vehicle. That officer responds and makes a traffic stop. In Michigan, fines for first-time violators start at $250.
Operation Ghost Rider’s approach is effective because it removes the biggest obstacle to catching distracted drivers.
David Anderson, Deputy Police Chief of the Bourbonnais, Illinois, Police Department, explained this problem to the Daily Journal for a story about distracted driving in that state.
“What we face is that we drive marked squad cars, so when the violators see the squad car they put the phone down and pick it back up when we pass them,” he said.
According to federal data, 3,477 people were killed and another 391,000 injured in distracted driving related accidents throughout the U.S. in 2015 alone. And there is evidence showing the problem is growing year by year, reversing decades of steady, life-saving progress on U.S. highways.
Texting and driving is the most dangerous form of distracted driving. Some studies have shown it to be many times worse than drinking and driving.
According to the Daily Journal, “Experts divide distracted driving into three categories: manual (reaching for things while driving), visual (taking your eyes off the road) and cognitive (failing to keep your focus on the road). Texting and driving can fall into all three categories.”
People driving long-distance should be aware that laws and fines vary dramatically from state to state. In Illinois, for example, it is illegal to check your cell phone if your car isn’t in park, even at a red light.
With authorities finding more effective ways to crack down on distracted drivers, the surest way to avoid getting fined is to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, without exception.