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The Battle Creek city commission voted on Tuesday,

Lowell police chief's take on Battle Creek's new law

The Battle Creek city commission voted on Tuesday, Feb. 5 to approve a new law that would fine drivers $100 if they are observed by police with a cell phone in their hand. Proponents of the law are calling for the legislature to come up with something similar for the entire state. Critics say the new law is unnecessary and difficult to enforce. Michigan law currently prohibits texting while driving, but the law does not specifically prohibit drivers from holding a phone while driving. “The device in hand is not necessarily the problem, it's the person that feels they need to text and drive,” said Lowell police chief Steve Bukala. “Car phones have been around since the 1970s, [for example on] the original 'Charlie's Angels' TV show. Phone companies have used technology to keep your eyes on the road. It is the texting and driving, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat postings that are the problem, and these are my personal and professional opinion.” According to the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center, in 2016 there were 12,788 distracted driving-related crashes in Michigan, with 43 deaths and 5,103 injuries. According to data from the Criminal Justice Information Center, cell phones were a factor in 1,912 auto crashes in Michigan in 2016. Of those, 1,893 (99 percent) involved use of a phone by the driver of a vehicle.
Bukala said cell phones are just one of the many things he's seen distracting drivers.
“I feel it's almost redundant to the texting while driving law. I was not a proponent of the texting and driving law when it came out,” Bukala said. “At that time it was two points and a $100 fine. We already had careless driving in Michigan, and at that time, careless driving was three points and about $150 fine. The careless driving had more teeth and it was easy to prove. The phone was in hand, the driver was distracted, speeding, left of center, hit a curb or you fill in the blank. Careless driving has been around for years. In the 25 years I've been a police officer I've seen people shaving, reading the paper, reading books, applying makeup, driving with their feet, watching a small TV on the dashboard, and my favorite, shaving their nose hair with a small electric razor while looking in the rear-view mirror. All of these amount to careless driving. Now the courts in this area have caught onto this, and now 63rd District Court has matched the texting and driving citation to the careless driving offense of $195. However, careless driving is three points, versus two points, on the license.”

Right now, if somebody gets into an accident while texting, Lowell police will ticket them for careless driving. “It's up to the discretion of the officer on whether or not to issue the citation,” Bukala said. “I can say I wrote [a ticket for texting while driving] one time in my career and our officers could say the same. If the texting was resulting in an accident, I guarantee you we wrote that person for careless driving resulting in an accident.”
Bukala said that unruly passengers in a vehicle can be even more distracting than any of its conveniences or entertainment features. He said he was even guilty of this himself in his youth and was in multiple accidents.
“All the other distractions I mentioned still do not amount to the distraction the other people in your vehicle cause the driver,” Bukala said. “As a driver when I was a teen, my accidents occurred based on my inexperience as a driver. As an adult, you mature as a person as well as behind the wheel. When I started driving, I had an AM/FM radio in the car, not even a cassette player. I had to save my money to buy one of those. Back in the day, in 1987 when I started driving, you had to fast forward or rewind to get to your favorite song. Fast forward 30 plus years, you have a digital navigation screen, turn by turn directions, digital sound systems, and you still have the distracting passengers in the car with you. The problem is people forget that a car is transportation, and you need to focus on the road ahead and what's going on around you versus someone's social media status.”
There are simple, affordable solutions if you have an older vehicle without all the fancy, interactive doo-dads that turn a car into a rolling cell phone.
“My advice for you is if you have a Bluetooth set up in your vehicle, use it or buy a hands free device,” Bukala said. “I am not sure if most people realize you can put an earbud in one ear, most are equipped with a built in microphone, and presto, your phone is now hands-free. My family vehicle is Bluetooth-paired to our phones, and in the other car I use an earbud if I need to make a call. If you don't have either of those, just hang up and drive. Your status update can wait 20 minutes.” Another good, new way to get a ticket is to disobey the “Move Over” law that went into effect Wednesday, Feb. 13. It will now cost you $400 if you fail to slow down by at least 10 mph to a speed 10 mph less than the posted speed limit when passing stationary vehicles with flashing lights, including police cars, fire trucks, tow trucks and snow plows.
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