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Posted on Sun, May 5, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Washtenaw County crashes with drivers using cellphones decreased in 2012 but remain deadly

By Kyle Feldscher


Charmaine Daugherty, a mother of four, died in March 2012 from injuries she suffered in this rollover crash. Daugherty was texting while driving.

Melanie Maxwell |

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.” 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."

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.


Jon Saalberg

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 1:34 a.m.

The easiest way to end this insanity is to make the inside of a car a "dead zone". Any bets on when that will happen?


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 11:17 a.m.

Why should the car's passengers not be able to use their phones? I drive. They talk. What do you have against that?


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 1:06 a.m.

Use of cell phones for any reason by a driver should be illegal. Nothing is that important that it can't wait. Everyone did just fine, maybe better, before cell phones were ubiquitous. Many people use their cell everywhere because it gives them a sense of self-importance. Unfortunately, that can lead to auto accidents and often rude behavior in other situations. Who wants to hear half of conversations in the library, stores, restaurants, and any other place people walk around with phones glued to their ears?

A A Resident

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:29 a.m.

Leaguebus, I don't know that answer to that one, but there have been a few times when I needed to ask talking passengers to hold off for a moment or two, because I really needed to concentrate on driving. Mostly though, passengers knew when distractions were inappropriate, because they were in the same environment that I was. Not so with people on the phone.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:04 a.m.

My Ford has the Sync system. It allows me to call and be called hands free. Maybe we should outlaw conversations between the driver and passengers too?


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 1:41 a.m.

I would concur! These drivers seem to oblivious to what is going on around them. Furtherrmore, their arm covers a whole side of their vision. HOw are they going to see anything on that side! I did not think much about this issue, until I got cut off a few times. Guess what they were doing at the time!


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 5:13 p.m.

Do a search for "Universal Forensic Extraction Device". The Police have the ability to find out on the spot if a cell phone was being used at the time of a crash. I would imagine a crash would give police probable cause to plug any cell phone found in involved vehicles into one of these. It's not a very expensive device and I am surprised there is no mention of this technology. The Michigan State Police had allegations that they were using these in an illegal manner a year or two ago.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 4:44 p.m.

It is good that has a follow up and this should serve as a sad reminder about texting and riving. It is not too difficult to tell if someone is texting while stopped at a red light because they don't react to the light turning green for several seconds. That's usually the time I honk the horn if I am behind such person.

A A Resident

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

Information taken from various studies: (scroll to the bottom of the page for the quickest summary)


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

Wow. Rear-ending someone while you are reading texts is a "bummer"? No wonder he hasn't changed his habits since it's just a "bummer". At least his admission in print may help in any future accidents he may cause.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 11:45 a.m.

Kyle, I had assumed (as, I think, did many readers) that law enforcement could check cell phone records to see if it was being used at the time of a crash. Your story, though, suggests that police do not do that, at least as a matter of routine, when there is a cell phone in a car involved in a crash. Do you know if police can check the records but usually do not, or is it sufficiently cumbersome to do (possibly requiring a search warrant, for example) that it is not done except in the most serious of cases, such as the fatality of Ms. Daugherty?


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 11:23 p.m.

Thanks, Mr. Barnes, it does help.

John Barnes

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 9:34 p.m.

Hi DBH: I'm the editor who coordinated this distracted-driving report statewide, including with Correct, only in the most serious cases - severe injuries or death generally - will police seek search warrants to review cellphone records. They require probable cause, a judge's approval, etc., and that time-consuming effort is unlikely in lesser crashes, or where the driver has hidden cellphone use. Hope that helps.

A A Resident

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

Unfortunately, the information they use to correlate accidents with distracted driving, largely relies on a driver who has been in an accident voluntarily furnishing that information. How many will admit that they were texting after being in an accident, even when asked? I suspect that the rates are actually much higher.

A A Resident

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:52 a.m.

JRW, cell phone records are considered to be a form of private and protected information. If you don't believe that, try legally getting mine without a subpoena or a search warrant. An "implied consent" law, similar to what enables police to administer a sobriety test, would probably be required for police to have immediate and easy access to cell phone information, if the driver doesn't give permission.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 1:03 a.m.

Well, cell phone records can be checked on anyone, so if someone is in a crash, their cell records could be checked to see if they were on a call at the time of the accident.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 4:22 p.m.

"How many will admit that they were texting after being in an accident, even when asked?" Especially now since we're drawn so much attention to it as a crime...


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 10:21 a.m.

I have a cell phone that stays in my purse while driving. Any message can go to voice mail and be answered later. I see so many distracted drivers talking on cell phones and not paying attention. Just not worth it.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

I agree. I fail to understand the near-compulsion to check messages while driving. And, of course, this involves pedestrians as well. Just last night I was approaching a green light in my car. A college-age woman was crossing the street (crossing on the red light) while looking at her cell phone. Unbelievable.