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Keep your “Thumbs on the Wheel”

Driver texting ban goes into effect July 1

Beginning Thursday, drivers who text behind the wheel risk not only a traffic crash but a $100 citation under provisions of a new state law designed to keep drivers’ eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

To encourage awareness and compliance, the Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) is launching a “Thumbs on the Wheel” campaign that will feature billboards, public service announcements and posters. OHSP will use federal traffic safety funds for the campaign aimed at reducing driver distractions.

“The state’s ban on texting while driving recognizes the potential danger when drivers are not fully focused on the road,” said Col. Eddie L. Washington, Jr., director of the Michigan State Police. “As with all traffic laws, law enforcement officers will take appropriate action when witnessing violations.”

Cedar Springs Police Chief Roger Parent said that they would also actively enforce the new law. “We’ll watch for it, just like everything else,” he said.

The primary enforcement law prohibits drivers from reading, manually typing or sending a text message while driving. Driving is defined as: operating a moving motor vehicle on a street or highway. Exceptions are in place for reporting crashes, crimes or other emergencies. Drivers face a $100 fine for a first offense and a $200 fine for subsequent violations. No points are assessed or posted to a person’s driving record.

Michigan is the 24th state to ban drivers from texting.

Parent said they might stop someone if they have no hands on the wheel, if they have a phone in their hand and appear to be looking down, or otherwise appear distracted.

Nationally, driver distraction is a major focus of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There are three main types of distraction:

* Visual – taking your eyes off the road
* Manual – taking your hands off the wheel
* Cognitive – taking your mind off what you’re doing

While all distractions can endanger drivers’ safety, texting is the most alarming because it involves all three types of distraction.

Michigan crash data captures information relative to cell phone use but does not differentiate whether a driver was talking or texting at the time of a crash. In 2009, the state recorded 947 people were using cell phones at the time of a crash.

While it’s not covered in the bill, Parent said that another problem is that when people are talking on cell phones, they often don’t use their turn signal. He said that the Supreme Court ruled last year that a change in lane does require a signal to be used. “Remember to continue to use the rules of the road,” he cautioned.

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