Texting and driving is illegal in Michigan, but local and state law enforcement agents and experts say the law is difficult to enforce.
Public Act 60 of 2010 prohibits operating a motor vehicle while reading, typing, or sending a text message on an electronic wireless device.
There have been 199 texting and driving citations so far this year in Oakland County, 43 in Macomb and 185 Wayne, according to Michigan State Police.
Michigan State Police Sgt. Mike Church said the texting and driving statute is difficult to enforce, especially with the advancements in smart phones since the law was put in effect in 2010.
When an officer pulls over someone for texting and driving, which is a civil infraction, the phone can’t be seized for proof. “It makes it difficult,” Church said.
And since technology has advanced since the law was passed, drivers could be using their phones to scroll for music, view a webpage or view a map. “The only thing (the law) seems to prohibit is text messaging,” said Church.
While flawed, the law is a good starting point, Church said. “It is a very good place to start,” he said. “Distracted driving is very dangerous.”
In Novi, police reported 30 traffic accidents involving distracted driving in 2011, four of which involved a cell phone. In 2010, 29 distracted driving crashes were reported with 11 involving a cell phone. And 2009, 17 distracted driving crashes were reported with 13 of the drivers using a cell phone, according to the Traffic Improvement Association of Michigan.
Novi Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety David Molloy agreed that the law is difficult to enforce.
"It's very difficult to tell after the fact with accidents unless people actually tell what they were doing prior to that," he said. "However, I would suspect that we've had multiple accidents as a result of not only people texting while driving, but young people texting while driving. I think that's the real issue. We need to teach them right away not to do that, not to get involved in that type of behavior."
In Michigan last year, drivers were reported to be distracted in 3,986 crashes, and using cell phones in 821 crashes.
But, the actual numbers of deaths, injuries and accidents are likely even higher, said Dominique Matich, a traffic safety specialist for the TIA, because police don't report distracted driving or cellular use in an accident unless the driver reports it as a factor.
Getting the message out in Novi
Molloy said that Officer Jeremy Stempien, who serves as the School Resource Officer at Novi High School, works to educate youth about the dangers of texting and driving.
The high school's chapter of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) has been speaking out against texting and driving for the past two years. In December, SADD will again focus on its texting and driving campaign, asking students to sign a pledge. The group might also pass out bracelets to remind students not to text and drive.
Although Novi has not issued a lot of citations, Molloy said that distracted driving is prevalent.
"In Novi and other communities, every time I pull up to a traffic light, it seems like someone is always looking at their phone, and I think it's become a habit that people have when they have idle time when they're driving, and it's incredibly dangerous," Molloy said.
Molloy said that drivers should remember that they are operating a vehicle that weighs several thousand pounds that can cause real damage if you're distracted by texting, using a cell phone or putting on makeup.
"Don't be doing anything that's going to distract you from your number one point, and that's to be focused on what's going on on the roadway in front of you and around you," he said.