Deputy Michael Dixon, of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, makes a traffic stop last week. Deputies, along with local law enforcement officers and the Michigan State Police, increased their efforts to find, educate and cite distracted drivers during Operation Ghost Rider.

Deputy Michael Dixon, of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, makes a traffic stop last week. Deputies, along with local law enforcement officers and the Michigan State Police, increased their efforts to find, educate and cite distracted drivers during Operation Ghost Rider.

Photo provided by the Transportation Improvement Association


Operation Ghost Rider targets distracted driving

By: Kristyne E. Demske, Julie Snyder | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published April 30, 2019

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METRO DETROIT — Law enforcement officials in Macomb and Oakland counties are making a statement.

Through an initiative called Operation Ghost Rider, multiple police agencies, including members of the Michigan State Police, teamed up to crack down on distracted driving along one of the busiest thoroughfares in the metro Detroit area.

Starting on April 25 and continuing through the end of the month, the amped-up police presence along M-59 (Hall Road) was an effort to remind motorists to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

“It was only for a few days, but … our deputies are out there looking for distracted drivers,” said Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham. “We want to make a statement and get the message out there about distracted driving. Distracted driving is anything that’s going to take your eyes off the road. You take your eyes off the road for a split second and you could be in a crash.”

The annual Operation Ghost Rider initiative is coordinated by the Transportation Improvement Association, or TIA.

Although the city wasn’t involved in the extra enforcement, Traffic Lt. Joseph Heythaler said that the St. Clair Shores Police Department is also encouraging drivers to keep their eyes on the road. Out of the average of six seconds that it takes to send or read a text, he said, “On average, a driver takes their eyes off the road for 4.6 of every six seconds.”

“If you’re traveling at 55 mph, it’s basically like traveling the distance of a football field, 300 feet, with your eyes closed.”

Operation Ghost Rider uses unmarked spotter vehicles, which contain a law enforcement passenger. When the spotters observe a distracted driver, they radio a fully marked law enforcement unit to initiate a traffic stop. In addition to the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, participating agencies include the Auburn Hills Police Department, Chesterfield Township Police Department, Clinton Township Police Department, Michigan State Police, Shelby Township Police Department, Sterling Heights Police Department and Utica Police Department.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

“Distracted drivers put themselves and everyone around them in danger,” Wickersham said. “No text message, social media update, or any other behavior that takes your eyes off the road is worth ending a life or causing an injury. We hope Operation Ghost Rider will change driver behavior so everyone can reach their destination safely.”

Wickersham said M-59 was chosen because it is a heavily traveled route that runs through multiple townships and municipalities before heading into Oakland County.

“This is also about education,” he said. “Hall Road isn’t the only roadway that’s affected by distracted driving; it’s all of our roads.”

Wickersham said distracted driving is a civil infraction, and fines depend on where a driver was cited.

Operation Ghost Rider was revealed at a press conference in Macomb County in 2017. During a total of 18 hours, law enforcement officers conducted more than 907 traffic stops resulting in 726 citations and 34 arrests. In 2018, officers stopped 530 vehicles, issued 440 citations and made nine arrests in a six-hour period.

According to the TIA, records indicate that 77 people were killed and 7,213 were injured in 18,927 crashes involving a distracted driver in Michigan during 2018.

“It is important to remember that distracted driving is totally preventable,” said Lt. Michael Shaw, public information officer of the Michigan State Police, in a TIA press release. “Please remember that you must keep both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. We look forward to working with our local and county partners to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.”

Drivers who use a hand-held device are four times more likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injury, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash.

In addition to conducting distracted driving education and enforcement initiatives since 2011, the TIA officially announced the Hands-Free Michigan movement on March 30, 2016, in partnership with Laurel Zimmerman, whose 16-year-old daughter Ally was struck by a distracted driver on Dec. 28, 2010, in the area of Romeo Plank and 32 Mile roads. The Romeo High School student later died from her injuries.

For more information about Hands-Free Michigan, visit handsfreemichigan.com.

 

Move over for bicycles
Heythaler also pointed out that with warmer spring temperatures, St. Clair Shores drivers should be more aware of bicyclists sharing the road.

The law in Michigan was amended in September 2018 to add bicyclists to the list of riders that must be given the right-of-way by automobiles traveling in the same direction on the road. That is, if “you’re coming up on a bicycle, the new law says the driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle ... shall pass at a safe distance of at least 3 feet to the left of the vehicle,” Heythaler explained.

“I know it’s going to start. We always have the bicyclists coming out and we have to, as of this law which took effect back in September, we have to give them 3 feet. If not, you have to either slow down until you can do that, or pass at a safe distance and a safe speed so we’re not running the bicyclists off the road.”

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