Public Safety Leaders and Students Partner to Kickoff Distracted Driving Awareness Month


Contact: Jim Santilli, CEO, (248) 334-4971

Jim Santilli, CEO of TIA, speaks about the dangers of distracted driving

MACOMB, Michigan, March 26, 2024 – The Transportation Improvement Association (TIA), Michigan State Police, Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, and several law enforcement agencies joined forces with students at Dakota High School today to encourage Michiganders to work together as a team to end distracted driving.

Last year, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bill making it illegal to manually use a cell phone or other mobile electronic device while operating a vehicle on Michigan roads. Under the law, a driver cannot hold or support a phone or other device with any part of their hands, arms, or shoulders. Even if a cell phone or other device is mounted on a dashboard or connected to a vehicle’s built-in system, a driver cannot use their hands to operate it beyond a single touch.

Design By: Johnathon Putrus Jr., Dakota High School

Through a $40,000 grant provided by State Farm, TIA recently challenged Michigan high school students to design a distracted driving awareness billboard to remind the public of the new law.

More than 60 innovative designs were judged by a selection committee consisting of: Chief Elvin V. Barren, Southfield Police Department; Sheriff Michael J. Bouchard, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office; Captain Steve Briney, Macomb County Sheriff’s Office; Col. James F. Grady II, director of the Michigan State Police; Sheriff Raphael Washington, Wayne County Sheriff’s Office; Chief Eric Winstrom, Grand Rapids Police Department; Monica Yesh, chief operating officer at TIA; and Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young, Kent County Sheriff’s Office.

Design By: Brandy Cavanaugh, Mercy High School

The selection committee chose a design created by Johnathon Putrus Jr., a student at Dakota High School, and Brandy Cavanaugh, a student at Mercy High School. The designs were selected because the hands-free law is communicated in a short, creative message.

“Our hope is all Michiganders unite to show we value the lives of the innocent people around us by putting the phone down when operating a motor vehicle,” said Jim Santilli, CEO of TIA and chairman of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commissions’ Distracted Driving Action Team. “We truly appreciate Johnathon Putrus Jr. and Brandy Cavanaugh helping us educate the public about Michigan’s hands-free law. Furthermore, we are thankful State Farm generously supports this initiative each year.”

(left to right) Macomb County Sheriff Anthony M. Wickersham; Senator Veronica Klinefelt; Johnathon Putrus Jr., Dakota High School Student; Jim Santilli, CEO of TIA; F/Lt. Michael Shaw, Michigan State Police; and Ron Roberts, Superintendent of Chippewa Valley Schools

Putrus’ and Cavanaugh’s designs will be seen on billboards throughout the state of Michigan during National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which takes place in April. More than 10 million impressions will be made.

“As drivers, we all have the responsibility and ability to end distracted driving,” said Col. James F. Grady II, director of the Michigan State Police. “The phone call, text, photo – it all can wait until you get to where you are going. I commend the TIA and our student honorees for their efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.”
According to TIA, preliminary numbers for 2023 indicate 56 persons were killed and 5,892 were injured in 15,136 motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in the state of Michigan.

“Since crashes involving a distracted driver often rely on a thorough investigation or driver admission, we know the number of crashes involving a distraction is likely much higher,” said Macomb County Sheriff Anthony M. Wickersham. “The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office will continue to make traffic safety a top priority to ensure those traveling on our roads return home safely to their loved ones. I commend Johnathon Putrus Jr. and Brandy Cavanaugh for helping us save lives and prevent injuries.”

Ron Roberts, the superintendent of Chippewa Valley Schools, stated distracted driving is a serious concern that can have devastating consequences.

“We are very proud of our student and his accomplishment,” said Roberts. “By having his design featured in this statewide campaign, Johnathon Putrus Jr. is using his creativity and artistic talent to affect change and provide awareness to a serious issue. This is just another example of how young people can make a difference by being a part of the solution.”

TIA is currently working with its law enforcement partners to develop distracted driving awareness materials that officers can distribute during a traffic stop and when conducting community policing.

During April, TIA will also coordinate Operation Ghost Rider throughout Michigan to further reduce distracted driving deaths and injuries. Operation Ghost Rider uses unmarked spotter vehicles, which contain a law enforcement passenger. When the spotters observe a distracted driver, they radio a fully marked law enforcement unit to initiate a traffic stop.

“Our hope is everyone across the great state of Michigan will do their part to end distracted driving,” said Santilli. “Lives depend on all of us making good choices when operating a motor vehicle.”