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North Hills

'Driving Without Distractions' program scheduled in Marshall

| Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, 1:39 p.m.

A Marshall Township mother has joined forces with the Northern Regional Police Department to try to ensure other families don't have to suffer as her family has after losing her son in a car accident.

Michelle Johnson and the police department have already hosted two “Driving Without Distractions” programs in Pine and Bradford Woods and will hold one more March 14, at the Marshall Township Community Center in Wexford. The workshops are free and are intended for both teens and their parents.

“Inattentive and distracted driving have become an epidemic and I thought if I could share my story, maybe I can empower others to make better decisions,” said Johnson, whose son, Connor, was killed seven years ago. “Partnering with law enforcement is a nice way to do it because it helps folks get in front of police officers before they have to.”

One reason it's important to have parents along, Johnson said, is because children follow their examples and can learn their bad behaviors. After Connor was killed, she said, she had to examine her own habits and think of what her two other children might be witnessing.

“That's when I realized I was answering the phone with them in the car with me and putting on makeup and those things needed to stop immediately,” she said.

NRPD Capt. John Sicilia said that while Johnson shares her family's story, the officers are there to answer questions about the laws and state restrictions on young drivers. He said that accidents and traffic violations involving distracted driving are a concern.

“You drive down the road and you can't go maybe two or three cars without seeing someone looking at their phone,” he said. “We're trying to address that as much as we can with traffic enforcement, but we're also trying to get the message out there prior to people having accidents or violations. This program is great for educating kids about what really happens, and there are consequences for your actions. That's first and foremost. At the point where we're issuing a citation or taking an accident report, we're too late.”

Johnson said that in addition to sharing a story that parents and kids can relate to, they also talk about what teens can do both as drivers and passengers to ensure a safe ride.

“We do try to make it a positive environment,” she said. “I talk about things like you can set your playlist, adjust the volume, get your Chapstick out of your purse and take a drink of water all before you put your car in drive,” she said. “It's not illegal to drink a pop or eat a sandwich in the car, but choosing to do that can be a deadly decision. These things are all choices.”

Karen Price is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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