By Katie Dudlets
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
Meridian Township resident Lexi Lambdin has continuously seen distracted drivers while on the road.
“There’s so many careless drivers out there with the texting and driving,” Lambdin said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’m on the road and I look over and the person next to me has their phone in their hand, and they’re not even looking at the road.”
Police see lots of the same thing, even though it’s against the law.
“Even though there’s a law against texting and driving, we still see it,” Meridian Township Police Chief David Hall said. “I have a tendency to think that people think ‘well, it’s a risk worth taking – I don’t see any police officers, so … ’ You still see [phones] out a lot. I don’t think people learned their lesson. I think it’s one of those things society isn’t willing to let go of. We have drunk driving laws but people still drink and drive. Try to take away their phone and you’d probably have an argument.”
For police, it’s more than just enforcing the rules. Last year, 13.2 percent (850 of 6,427) of written police reports in Meridian resulted from traffic crashes. And there’s a nearly one in five chance that an accident will result in injury. Work injury lawyers in phoenix AZ have made a small study on fork lift operators and they are also at fault of using their phones!
“What causes our accidents is driver error. Because in every accident, there’s somebody at fault,” Hall said.
This driver error, Hall said, is mostly on account of distracted driving. Hall said that main cause of the accidents in Meridian is something that, while easily diagnosed, is difficult to change.
“Distracted driving is anything that takes your attention away from the act of actually driving a motor vehicle,” said Assistant Chief Ken Plaga of the Meridian Township Police. “Distracted driving could be eating – now that doesn’t make distracted driving by itself illegal, but it’s dangerous. So you could be eating or you could be talking on your cell phone. Then there’s people who do their hair or apply makeup.”
As police have noted distracted driving as being a serious issue in Meridian, Plaga said they have recently implemented a distracted driving enforcement team to combat the trend.
“In distracted driving enforcement, we have an officer wearing regular street clothes, driving a regular car (a vehicle that’s not marked) and they’re driving along looking for infractions: people who are texting and driving, people who are swerving out of their lane because they’re distracted and driving,” said Plaga. “They call to an officer in a marked car that there’s a violation.”
According to Plaga, that officer would then stop the car and take enforcement action on the driver for whatever the violation might be. It could be texting and driving, impeding traffic, leaving their lane or an improper turn or stop.
In order to keep the enforcement effective, Plaga said the groups go out at different days and times during the week.
“We do it randomly, and we try to get publicity so that people know that we do these,” Plaga said. “It deters folks from driving while they are distracted.”
Hall said this publicity makes a significant impact on the effectiveness of the program.
“When people hear that we’re doing it, even though the chances of them getting stopped are remote, it causes them to be more cautious, it causes them to not text and drive,” said Hall.
Plaga said even this small difference in the actions of drivers could have an impact on the number of accidents in the township.
“If it helps just a little bit and prevents just one accident, that’s one less accident, one less chance of injury,” said Plaga.
Lambdin said more education and consciousness of the causes leading to the accidents would be additionally helpful, especially since Michigan weather is also problematic for drivers.
“If it is careless driving or drunk driving, educate people more,” said Lambdin, “or if it is because of weather conditions, make it a point to get out there and fix the road conditions before it’s a problem.”
Hall said he considers last year to be a relative success in terms of Meridian’s auto accidents since there were no fatalities in 2015.
“That is significant and something that we’re grateful for,” said Hall. “In looking at our crash statistics over the last five years, having consistency between the years, that means something to us. Probably the fact that we have nothing notable to report [in reference to the constant percentage of accidents] is itself notable. No news is good news.”
Wanting another year without a fatality on the road, both Hall and Plaga advise Meridian drivers to pay attention and stay off their phones while driving.
“Get someplace safe, send that message, and then continue on in your travels,” said Plaga. “It’s safer to wait and the consequences can be too great if you do take a chance.”