Undercover Cops Stopping Distracted Drivers

"The message we're really trying to send is that distracted driving causes traffic crashes and injuries. What we want folks to do is take a second thought...And just that thought may keep people from using devices and driving distracted."~Lt. Ken Plaga, Meridian Township Police

Police in Meridian Township want you to second guess yourself when you're out the road. For all you know, when you pull out your cell phone, it may be a plainclothes police officer in an unmarked car.

"We've been trying to devise a way to reduce the amount of distracted driving in the township," said Lt. Ken Plaga of the Meridian Township Police. "And this is what we came up with."

Unmarked cars will patrol some of the Township's busiest roads and most frequent accident sites. If they see someone using their cell phone, the officer will radio for a marked car to make the traffic stop.

"A lot of times people will look around, if they see a marked car they're not going to make that text or read that email or use that GPS unit," said Plaga. "What they'll do is they'll wait until they're in an area where there's not a visible police officer around."

The new tactic was put in place at the beginning of the month, and Plaga says he's already seen results.

What's legal, what's not?

Under state law, it is illegal to read, type or send a text message. It is also against the law to use a handheld or non-affixed GPS device.

Talking on the phone is ok, as long as you are an adult with a graduated license, though Plaga says it is a distraction.

Eating, drinking or changing the radio station is also considered distracted driving -- though you likely won't be pulled over for it.

"But if you're not paying attention to your driving you could leave the traffic lane that you're in," said Plaga. "Your speeds tend to increase or decrease and you become a traffic hazard or a safety hazard."

It is legal to use a device at a red light, though Plaga says you must be completely stopped, and people often don't notice when the light turns green.

Penalties start at $100 for a first-time offender and can range as high as $250 in 55th District Court, according to Plaga.

Reaction

Reaction to the rollout has been mixed, said Plaga.

On the one hand, there are people like Patrick Gifford, who lives in East Lansing.

"It's that what they have to do to get the job done, then that's what they have to do," he said. "But I think it might frustrate some people with the unmarked cars."

And then there are people like Sam Gwinn, who, although they approve of stopping distracted drivers, would rather see marked cars do the work.

"Secrecy just always comes off as...it just doesn't look good to the public," he said.

In 2012, 3,328 people were killed in the United States in accidents involving a distracted driver, according to a Meridian Township press release.


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