Oct. 6, 2020
MSU civil engineers helping Michigan combat distracted driving
Civil engineers at Michigan State University are helping the State of Michigan evaluate methods for enforcing violations of distracted driving and dangerous cell phone use.
In a study led by MSU Foundation Professor Peter Savolainen and Associate Professor Tim Gates, dynamic message signs are being used off-and-on to help alert drivers of the “highly visible enforcement” that started Oct. 5 and runs through Oct. 19.
Savolainen and Gates – both faculty members in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering - are working with police agencies in Kent and Wayne counties to help determine if targeted safety messages have any measurable impact on driver behavior.
“Distracted driving, and cell phone use specifically, continue to be significant traffic safety concerns nationwide,” Savolainen said. “This project aims to assess the effectiveness of high visibility enforcement, in combination with different types of messages that discourage cell phone use by drivers.”
Dynamic message signs are roadside signs with easily changeable electronic messages, Savolainen explained.
“The study is basically focused on determining the degree to which targeted law enforcement, the use of safety-focused content on dynamic message signs, and the combination of these two approaches are able to reduce the degree of distracted driving,” he noted.
Participating law enforcement agencies are the Detroit Police Department, Michigan State Police (MSP) Second District, Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, Grand Rapids Police Department, Wyoming Police Department, MSP Sixth District, and Kent County Sheriff’s Office. They will conduct up to 1,000 hours of distracted driving enforcement.
In 2019, 70 people were killed in Michigan in distracted driving crashes.
“Texting and driving is one of the most dangerous acts one can do behind the wheel,” said Michael L. Prince, Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) director. “We hope this research will provide us with new strategies in combating this deadly problem.”
This research is part of a nationwide project sponsored by the National Safety Council. It will continue again from April 5-26, 2021.
Kent and Wayne counties were selected to participate because of their high number of fatal and serious injury crashes. From 2016-2018, there were 188 fatal or serious injury distracted driving crashes in Wayne County and 128 in Kent County, the two highest in the state.
Michigan law prohibits a driver from reading, manually typing, or sending a text message while driving. Exceptions are in place for reporting crashes, crimes or other emergencies.
Savolainen added that the research project is sponsored as a part of a Safe System Innovation Grant from the National Safety Council, and runs with funding provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Portions of this story are courtesy of Michigan.gov.