Sgt. Chad Sell looked out his driver’s-side window and witnessed someone brushing their teeth while driving — not something you see every day.
“I wanted to know where they were going to spit,” Sell said.
It’s not often, but Sell has seen his fair share of distracted driving.
That was just one of many multitasking attempts Sell has witnessed drivers do during his time at the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department.
“These are things that can wait, and we hope that message is conveyed with this program,” Sell said, referring to the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department’s third annual distracted-driving program that took place at FT Techno of America in Fowlerville on Saturday. The program was targeted toward new drivers ranging from 16 to 18 years old and their parents.
“We wanted to go over the traffic rules and help these kids understand how important it is to focus on driving for both themselves, their passengers and other drivers on the road,” Sell said.
The program was one of many in the region to inform drivers the risk of distracted driving. The first district of the Michigan State Police First District — which includes the Brighton, Jackson, Lansing and Monroe posts — conducted a distracted-driving enforcement effort during April to reduce distracted driving.
Throughout April, troopers in Livingston, Ingham, Jackson and Washtenaw counties used unmarked vehicles to identify drivers who were driving in violation of the Michigan Vehicle Code while demonstrating the behaviors of distracted driving, according to a MSP newsrelease.
There were 141 total traffic stops that resulted in 90 citations and 75 verbal warnings. Of the 90 citations issued, 35 were for texting while driving, careless driving or another violation related to distracted driving, according to the news release.
What is considered distracted driving?
“Anything that takes your attention away from driving is considered distracted driving,” said Sell. “I’ve seen people looking down eating food, reading the newspaper and watching TV.”
Starting the conversation
Something new the sheriff’s department did with the program this year was having a speaker who had been in a distracted-driving situation.
Her story is one the many in the county may be familiar with.
“This is the first time I’m publicly speaking out about what happened,” Shelia Ann Kopek said to the group of kids and parents.
Kopek, 36, pleaded no contest in Livingston County District Court in March to a moving violation causing death in connection with the crash that killed 35-year-old Pinckney resident Kevin Kramer on Aug. 7, 2014. The judge said the crash was a mistake and under the law is criminal, but it had no intent for harm. She was sentenced on two years of probation.
“I got distracted while driving, turned and went to pat my kids leg to keep her from crying … next thing you know, a piece of tire ripped off my tire and my car was out of control,” Kopek said about the incident. “The pain I have to live with every day that is the worst isn’t the car crash itself or the fines or any of that, it’s the fact that I took an innocent man’s life because I was distracted.”
Kopek held the piece of tire from the scene tightly in her hand while she spoke, a reminder of the tragedy that took place that day.
“I hope you all speak up when you’re in the passenger seat and you see the driver doing something they aren’t suppose to be doing, because it starts with you,” Kopek said. “It’s not just kids, it’s everyone. Adults do this, too, so I hope parents realize they also need to stay focused while driving.”
Following her speech, others in the audience decided to share distracted-driving stories with the group.
“It starts with the conversation,” Sell said. “If we can save at least one person’s life, that’s enough for us.”
The driving course
After several emotional stories were exchanged, sheriff’s officials took the kids and parents out to the driving course, where the parents sat in the back of the car to witness their children drive distracted.
I decided to participate to get the full effect of what the course had to offer. Sell said the most common feedback he receives from participants is, “people think this should be offered in driving school.”
The course consisted of four cone setups to drive through. A sheriff’s deputy sat in the passenger seat and distracted the driver. It was hard to ignore the constant nagging and yelling.
The deputy gave drivers a taste of what it’s like to have someone bugging you to listen or do something, whether it’s a regular conversation or telling you to find your phone to answer a call.
“We want to put these participants in real-life scenarios so they know how bad they drive when they’re doing other things,” Sell said. “We also wanted them to drive with the drunk and drug goggles on.”
Overall, Sell was satisfied with the program and hoped at least one person took the lessons to heart.
“It’s better to lose a second of your life than to lose your life in a second,” Sell said.
Contact Livingston Daily education reporter Abby Welsh at 517-552-2848 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @abby_welshLD.