Unmarked cars help MSP catch distracted drivers

Michigan State Police, distracted driving
Michigan State Police Trooper Lulu Ghannam receives information from a spotter in an unmarked vehicle about a distracted driver. (May 3, 2017)


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Undercover cops are cracking down on distracted drivers across Michigan. Patrols will be amping up this summer.

According to the most recent Michigan State Police records available, more than 7,500 crashes were caused by distracted drivers in 2015. Of those, 28 were deadly. And MSP says the problem is getting worse.

Michigan State Police, distracted driving
Michigan State Police Trooper Lulu Ghannam pulls over a driver for distracted driving. (May 3, 2017)

MSP is watching drivers to make sure their eyes are on the road and their hands are on the wheel. It’s a well-organized, multi-car operation to keep everyone safe.

On I-94 in Kalamazoo County on Wednesday, one trooper was parked along the eastbound lanes and another along the west. Two others drove in an unmarked vehicle, keeping an eye out for distracted drivers. The spotter in the passenger’s seat of the unmarked car looked for drivers who had their heads or eyes down or appeared otherwise distracted.

Michigan State Police, distracted driving
Michigan State Police Trooper Lulu Ghannam receives information from a spotter in an unmarked vehicle about a distracted driver. (May 3, 2017)

The spotter relayed information to a trooper in a marked vehicle, who then pulled over the distracted driver.

Even before getting eyes on the driver, the spotter can often tell when a driver is distracted.

“Their driving behavior often mimics that of a drunk driver,” Sgt. Chris Hayward with the MSP Paw Paw Post explained. “We can see that coming up behind us, sometimes they’ll be crossing the centerline.”

Michigan State Police, distracted driving
Michigan State Police Sgt. Chris Hayward sits in an unmarked car, taking note of distracted drivers and relaying information to a trooper in a marked cruiser. (May 3, 2017)

When you start to look for it, it’s easy to see.

When 24 Hour News 8 rode along with MSP during the patrol on I-94, three distracted drivers were pulled over over the course of about three hours. All three were pulled over for being on their phones — which, to no one’s surprise, is the number one distraction.

If you are caught, you could get a $150 ticket.

Officials say the number of fatal crashes in Michigan increased in 2016, but it’s not yet known how many were caused by distracted driving. MSP is also starting to track distracted driving crashes in a new, more specific way.

>>Online: MSP on 2016 fatal crashes

Michigan State Police, distracted driving
Michigan State Police Trooper Lulu Ghannam pulls over a driver for distracted driving. (May 3, 2017)

Distracted driving is not new problem. In 2000, Trooper Rick Johnson from the Paw Paw Post was killed by a distracted driver while he conducting a traffic stop.

“Every encounter we have, whether we give a warning or citation, it has some kind of effect on the person,” Trooper Lulu Ghannam said. “So I think that as long as we’re out here our presence in itself is enough, I think, to hopefully deter people from doing this.”