KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich. — Michigan State Police said they see people texting and driving all the time. It’s gotten so bad, they believe it may have been a factor in the recent spike in traffic deaths. So they’re hitting the road in unmarked cars, looking closely for those drivers staring down at their phones.
“Primarily we are looking for people that are texting and driving,” said F/Lt. Dale Hinz while driving down I-94. “Obviously, using the phone itself is not a violation of law in Michigan, but using pretty much any of the apps or texting and driving is a violation of the law.”
FOX 17 rode along with F/Lt. Hinz and Sgt. Chris Hayward as they drove along the highway looking for those drivers. Within minutes, they spotted a driver weaving in his lane, almost hitting the fog lines. Sgt. Hayward jotted down the make, model, color, and license plate of the car before he relayed it over the radio to the marked cruiser stationed a quarter mile ahead.
“We’re just coming up on Sprinkle [Road], if you want to slide over before you get out to position,” said Sgt. Hayward into his radio.
Minutes later, the car was pulled over and cited. Hinz said troopers will be out a lot more as the weather is getting warmer.
A recent report by the state police’s Criminal Justice Information Center released a report showing a 10 percent increase in traffic deaths from 2015 to 2016. It’s the second year in a row there’s been an increase.
“A lot of it can be attributed to the economy being better, more miles traveled, gas prices being lower,” said Hinz. “But distracted driving does play a part of that. And so we’re going to do our part to bring that enforcement piece and the education piece to the public to try to affect that fatality rate.”
According to the report, last year there were 1,064 traffic deaths. The last time there were over 1,000 deaths in the state was back in 2007. Police aim to keep that number as low as possible.
“We’re not trying to sneak up on anyone in an unmarked vehicle or anything of that nature,” said Hinz. “But we are trying to get that message out that distracted driving and texting and driving is huge issue.”
On a typical afternoon, police can catch a person texting and driving about once every 10 minutes, Hinz said. And the signs are obvious: changing speeds, driving with their heads down, weaving in their lane. One thing police are seeing more often is people holding the cell phones further down in their console. He said that's too dangerous, because they’re staring at their phones for longer periods of time.
“So many times we don’t even think about it anymore when we hear that ding or that prompt,” said Hinz. “We have to answer that phone immediately. We have to text immediately. And we’re simply appealing to drivers to delay that and do that when they park somewhere.”