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 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.
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.
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.
Officers investigating crash scenes are trained to ask people if they were using a cell phone while driving. And, if the crash is serious, they’ll ask the driver’s permission to take the phone. If they refuse the request, the officer can obtain a search warrant to get the phone.
That part of the law will not change, which has Muskego Police tempering the effectiveness of the law.
"In concept it is great," said Capt. John La Tour. "However, it doesn't provide us authority to look at the history of the phone without a warrant. All those little nuances will be important as to the effectiveness of the law."
Under the new law, police could pull over a teen they see using their cell phone while driving, but also calls into play judgment on a driver's age in a moving vehicle during a short snapshot of time.
The law provides a fine of $20 to $40 for the first offense and $50 to $100 for the 2nd or subsequent conviction within a year.
However, it's hoped that other drivers will also serve as the eyes of law enforcement if they are following a young driver.
“All of us have been behind someone who has been talking or texting while and they drive like a drunk person,” Kunich said. “We all need to avoid that and it’s a serious issue.”