Washtenaw County crashes with drivers using cellphones decreased in 2012 but remain deadly
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
- Related statewide analysis from MLive.com: Disconnect: In a world of talking, texting drivers, cellphone crashes are ... down?
- Searchable database: Find details for all Michigan distracted-driving crashes in 2012
Following a statewide trend, the number of distracted driving crashes in Washtenaw County in 2012 rose from the previous year, injuring nearly 40 people and killing one woman who was texting while driving.
Statistics from Michigan Traffic Crash Facts show the number of distracted driving crashes rose from 206 in 2011 to 270 in 2012. The number of crashes caused by a driver using a cellphone remained fairly stable, decreasing from 41 crashes in 2011 to 37 crashes in 2012, according to MTCF.
However, one of those crashes caused by cellphone usage proved tragic. Charmaine Daugherty, 42, was texting at 2:55 p.m. March 27, 2012, when she lost control of her 2000 Chevrolet while northbound on Wagner Road near West Liberty Road. Daugherty’s vehicle crossed the centerline, left the roadway to the left, struck a utility pole and overturned.
Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Derrick Jackson said that crash was a terrible reminder of the real consequences of using a cellphone while behind the wheel.
“For me personally, dealing with that case and talking about it and knowing it was directly related to texting, it allowed me to say, ‘This is the real consequence,’ ” Jackson said. “It was a tangible, clear one. This one was clearly related to texting. It does change you, and it causes you to think about it and talk about it a lot more.”
AnnArbor.com revisited the crash that killed Daugherty as a part of MLive Media Group’s analysis of distracted driving and cellphone-related crashes in 2012. The investigation showed cellphone crashes at an all-time low across the state and distracted driving crashes at an all-time high. The analysis serves as a followup to MLive's award-winning series on distracted driving from 2012.
Distracted driving can take many forms. Crashes determined to be caused by distracted driving could involve drivers eating, talking to passengers, applying makeup or grooming hair or changing a radio station, according to the Michigan State Police.
The crash that killed Daugherty was the county's most severe crash involving cellphone usage by a driver in recent years. Statistics show that three people suffered non-incapacitating injuries in the 37 cellphone-related crashes in 2012. Eight more suffered possible injuries and 24 people escaped without injuries.
However, law enforcement officials believe it’s difficult to get a real reading on how many crashes are caused by cellphone usage.
Ann Arbor police Lt. Renee Bush said officers in the city are looking out for people who are using their cellphones while behind the wheel. However, it’s hard to tell if a crash was directly caused by cellphone usage unless witnesses or the people involved point directly to that distraction.
Bush said there have only been three reported crashes directly tied to cellphone usage in Ann Arbor so far in 2013. For the most part, those crashes have been simple fender benders.
“We don’t get called until there’s an accident and officers start the investigation,” Bush said. “The investigation reveals what was happening. As far as that goes, officers have to ask the correct questions during the investigation.”
Jackson echoed those sentiments, and said it’s tough to gauge if cellphone usage is increasing or decreasing in recent years. In fact, deputies on the road told him they barely notice any changes.
“They all kind of reached the conclusion that it’s been like this for a while,” he said. “There’s no change up or down.”
Despite the fact that texting while driving is illegal in Michigan, it’s commonplace to see drivers looking down toward their phones while they’re in the car. Be it at a red light, while driving down the street or, in at least one case, while rolling up to a red light, drivers often have their eyes trained on screens rather than the road.
John Pederson, a 20-year-old University of Michigan student, said he was in the passenger seat of his roommate’s car while they were driving in Ann Arbor last year. It was an unremarkable, but common, situation: Pederson’s roommate was looking through some text messages while slowing down for a red light.
Sitting in the passenger seat, Pederson said he assumed his roommate was paying attention. However, he barely got the chance to warn him before they rear-ended the vehicle in front of them.
“I just honestly felt bad for him,” Pederson said. “I knew his parents would get on him about it, and no one wants a damaged car. The woman he hit was really angry, it was just a bummer.”
Luckily, most of the cellphone-related crashes are similar to this— easily avoidable fender benders that don’t result in injuries. Pederson said the experience made him change how he used his phone while driving for a short time.
“I don’t think I changed my habits that much,” he said. “I did for a time. I’m good about not texting while driving but I still talk on the phone and sometimes read texts.”
If a driver is comfortable using a cellphone and driving, it often doesn't matter where they're using their vehicle, Jackson said. If they're at a red light, a surface street or on a freeway, that driver will likely continue to use a cellphone regardless of the safety risks.
Bush agreed with Jackson, and said police often encourage teens and other drivers to wait until they're parked to use their phones. Especially in a town like Ann Arbor, which has a somewhat complicated transportation system combining pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, it's important for drivers to keep their eyes on the road.
"You're just so vulnerable," she said. "People need to be paying attention to what's going on."