Oakland county leads effort to stop distracted driving, introduces carpool lanes

OAKLAND COUNTY-The metro Detroit suburbs are taking some additional steps on the state’s roads to ensure that drivers are safe, including implementing ‘Operation Ghost Rider’ across several cities targeting distracted driving and plans to install carpool lanes on I-75 to ensure better flow of traffic.

It’s been four months since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed new legislations that banned cell phone use while driving, in an attempt to combat an increased trend of car accidents as a result of distracted driving. While the new legislation has gotten a promotional rollout with road signs and a social media campaign to inform residents about the new law, police departments had decided to scale back on enforcing it the first few months until awareness had increased.

That all changed in October. Michigan Police, in collaboration with Oakland county and MacComb county police departments, have launched ‘Operation Ghost Rider’ with the goal to patrol for distracted drivers in unmarked vehicles.

The initiative, which is coordinated by the Transportation Improvement Association (TIA), uses unmarked cars with a Police officer in the passenger seat monitoring nearby drivers. If that officer were to spot a driver using his cell phone while behind the wheel, a visible law enforcement is radioed in to pull them over.

“Despite knowing the risks, distracted drivers continue to put themselves and the innocent people around them at risk,” said Jim Santilli, CEO of TIA and chairman of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commissions’ Distracted Driving Action Team. “Sadly, many people have lost a loved one to a completely preventable behavior. We can all do our part by keeping our eyes on the road and hands on the wheel at all times.”

According to TIA, crash reports for 2022 indicate 57 people were killed and 5,905 were injured in 15,441 motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in the state of Michigan. 

Participating agencies include the Auburn Hills Police Department, Chesterfield Township Police Department, Clinton Township Police Department, Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, Michigan State Police, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, Shelby Township Police Department, Sterling Heights Police Department, Troy Police Department, and Utica Police Department.

According to the new legislation, penalties are: first violation, $100 fine and/or 16 hours of community service; second or subsequent violations, $250 fine and/or 24 hours of community service; 3 violations within a 3-year period, complete a driving-improvement course. Fines are doubled if a traffic crash occurs and the at-fault driver was holding or manually using a mobile device while operating the vehicle.

Police will continue Operation Ghost Rider through the end of 2023.

Introducing carpool lanes

On October 10, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill that would allow MDOT to designate High-occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV) for the first time in Michigan. Such lanes are already featured in 26 other states and have efficiently reduced traffic in those states, according to several studies.

The first HOV lanes will be implemented on newly-constructed highway lanes built using federal funding. That will include stretches of I-75 in Oakland County between 12 Mile and South Blvd. and 8 mile to 12 mile.

“These bills represent a major step forward for mobility in Michigan and efforts to decrease emissions by encouraging people to share rides,” said MDOT Director Bradley C. Wieferich. 

The lanes will be open to vehicles with two or more people between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Outside of those times, all other cars will be able to use the lanes.

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