Jul 28, 2014

Put Down That Phone Behind the Wheel, Kiddo

Learn about a new state law that restricts all cell phone use in the car for many young drivers. Port Washington Police Chief Kevin Hingiss says it "will save lives."

Put Down That Phone Behind the Wheel, Kiddo Put Down That Phone Behind the Wheel, Kiddo

For Gary Kunich, the issue of people talking on a phone or texting while driving is a personal and painful topic.

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 state law will ban teens from using their cell phones while driving. 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. Violators will be fined.

"I think it is an idea that will save lives," said Port Washington Police Chief Kevin Hingiss. "With the little experience these drivers have they need to concentrate on driving and face as few distractions as possible."

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.

Hingiss pointed out that all drivers are obligated to focus on their driving and avoid distractions, though he felt like use of a hands-free device would be appropriate. He said his officers will have an eye out for offenders of the new law.

"We live in a smaller city and our officers know many of the younger drivers,
 he said. "If they see a violation they can then take enforcement action."

Don’t miss updates from Patch!