For Gary Kunich the issue of people talking on a phone or texting while driving is a personal and painful topic to discuss.
A girl talking on her cell phone while driving a car killed his 21-year-old son, Devin Kunich, last year in Kenosha. Ever since that tragic day, Kunich has lobbied for people to put their cell phones away, and focus on their driving.
And soon, a new law will ban teens from using their cell phones while driving or face a fine. Beginning Nov. 1, drivers who have a probationary license or instructional permit won't be able to use a cell phone or text while driving.
While Kunich said he couldn’t take credit for the creation of the bill, he did make a number of phone calls to Gov. Scott Walker’s office asking for a law to address the issue. Kunich thinks the law is a good first step, but he’d like the ban to apply to all drivers.
“A driver on a cell phone killed my son, can I be angry and lash out or can I be passionate about this issue and tell the truth about what happened so others don’t have to go through what we have?” Kunich said.
Kunich isn’t pointing fingers at the girl who was driving when he talks about the issue, rather he’s making a plea to all drivers to leave their cell phones alone while driving. He points to studies that show that people who use cell phones or text while driving, drive worse than a person driving with a .08 alcohol level. What's more scary to him, is that the average cell phone call or text requires someone to look down for five seconds -- the same amount of time it takes to travel the length of football field.
“Now, if a child rides their bicycle into the street and you kill them, how would a driver feel killing that kid?” Kunich asked.
When Kunich talks to people, he’s starting to see their attitudes change – politicians have started to realize the magnitude of the problem, members of the media have begun to ask more questions about car crashes involving cell phone use, and police investigate crashes differently.
“I’ve spoken with a number of police officers and paramedics and they tell me that one of the first things they do at a crash scene is look at those cell phones,” Kunich said.
Mount Pleasant Police Sgt. Eric Relich said distracted driving is a major contributor to the number of accidents officers see in the village.
"People just aren't paying attention, and teens, especially, get distracted by everything like friends in the car and loud music," he said.
Still, enforcing the new law is expected to be just as difficult as the texting ban, said Sturtevant Police Chief Sean Marschke.
"Officers are trained to look for cell phones at the scene of an accident and we can get warrants if anyone refuses to surrender their phone, but otherwise, it is difficult to enforce," he said.
Relich compared the law to when the mandatory seat belt law went into effect.
"People said the government couldn't tell them to wear a seat belt, but look at what's happened," he noted. "Drivers and passengers are using seat belts more often and injuries and fatalities are decreasing as a result. I hope this works the same way."
Marschke agrees, too, that promoting the law to young and inexperienced drivers is a good route to take. The County Safety Board, he said, will be distributing posters to schools throughout Racine County to promote not using any electronic devices while driving.
"The law and getting the word out is meant to discourage inexperienced drivers from talking on their phones while driving," he said. "We're looking for compliance, not another way for us to write more tickets and make more money."
Marschke will address this very issue on WRJN Radio at 9 a.m. Friday morning.
Speaking of tickets, if MPPD issues a ticket for distracted driving, the fine is $101.40.