May 24 • 08:28 PM

Texting ban starts July 1

New law could be challenge for local law enforcement officers

June 30, 2010
TRI-CITY AREA — On Thursday, July 1, Michigan will join 27 other states that have enacted legislation to prohibit texting while driving.

Under the law, texting behind the wheel will be classified as a primary offense. As a result, offenders can be pulled over and fined up to

$200 for text messaging. Despite a consensus in law enforcement that text messaging and driving is dangerous, some feel enforcing the new law may be difficult.

"There's no doubt that text messaging and driving can be a distraction," says Almont Police Chief Pat Nael. "We hope the law will discourage some from doing it—but it's going to be a tough law to enforce."

While the state’s new ban on texting and driving may be difficult to enforce, local law enforcement officers hope it will curtail the dangerous activity. photo by Tom Wearing.

Nael said police can always request search warrants to subpoena motorists' cell phone records, but challenges in court could be problematic.

"If we can't prove that an accident occurred at the exact time someone was texting," he said, "it could be tough. It will be a very difficult thing to prove."

Regardless, Nael hopes the majority of motorists will use common sense and choose to avoid texting while driving.

"It's obviously not something people should be doing," he said. "We hope the law will deter some people who don't want to take a chance on getting a ticket."

Sgt. Shawn Peters, a Dryden police officer for nine years, notes a number of cases where texting and driving have led to accidents and injuries.

"We've had several accidents where distracted driving has been a factor," says Peters. "Even just the use of a cell phone can be distracting.

"We had one driver who knew the road he was driving well," he says, "but veered off, hit a tree and was severely injured. We believe that was a direct result of being distracted while using a phone."

Peters says young people ages 16-25 are more likely to be texting behind the wheel, although older drivers are quickly joining their ranks.

"Generally, it is the younger people," he says, "but it's a practice that is growing among older people.

"Some are now using their I-phones to go on line, which is even worse because they're spending more time looking at a screen.

"It will be tough to enforce, but we hope we can stop the trend from getting worse," says Peters. "If you need to text, just pull over. It's a simple solution."

Nael is convinced the texting issue will eventually be resolved through the evolution of technology.

"We may be able to adopt technology that would automatically shut down a phone when a vehicle is traveling at a specific rate of speed," Nael speculated. "The technology probably already exists."

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration findings from 2008 attribute nearly 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries to distracted driving habits, including texting. Additional findings show that texting drivers are 20 times more likely to be involved in a crash than non-distracted drivers.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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