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Oct. 9, 2020

MSU civil engineers help Michigan evaluate distracted driving


Dynamic message signs are being used to alert drivers of the enforcement campaign that runs through Oct. 19.


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.


Peter Savolainen is part of an MSU research team working to reduce distracted driving.

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 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.


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.

Portions of this story are courtesy of

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