Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- It was the beginning of April, Distracted Driving Awareness Month. An officer in Park Forest, Ryan Purdy, pulled over a driver from Steger and issued her a citation on suspicion of using her cell phone while driving. He was surprised when she came to the police station a day later to say, “Thanks” to the officer for issuing the ticket.
According to police, initially, like most people who receive citations, the driver, Ms. Diane Gussie Johnson, wasn’t happy. Several days later, however, Ms. Johnson realized how dangerous distracted driving is when she heard about a fatal crash. Ms. Johnson immediately crafted a sign and read, “I promise to drive safe!” and came to the Park Forest Police Department to help spread the word that drivers should remain alert at the wheel.
“Ms. Johnson now wants to spread the word and help other people understand the message,” police said on social media.
eNews Park Forest spoke with Officer Ryan Purdy about his first encounter and subsequent reunion with Ms. Johnson.
“The Park Forest Police Department currently participating in Distracted Driving Awareness Month,” Officer Purdy said. “It’s a nationwide month. That’s pretty much dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. So, we’re doing extra details, where officers specifically go out, look for people texting and driving, talking on the phone and driving, and then issue citations to make people more aware of the dangers of that kind of behavior.
Officer Purdy said he was working detail near the beginning of April and stopped Ms. Johnson, issuing her a citation, “because she was speaking on her phone,” the officer said.
“I didn’t really think much of it. She wasn’t angry with me. She accepted the ticket, and we both parted ways,” the three-year veteran of the PFPD said.
Then, a deputy chief emailed the officer, saying, “Hey Ms. Johnson, who you issued a ticket to, stopped by the police department. She had a sign that she made. She wanted to thank you for giving her the ticket,” according to Officer Purdy’s retelling of the communication.
“Apparently she was watching the news and she heard about a fatal car accident that involved distracted driving, and kind of dawned out on her, and she realized how dangerous her behavior was,” Officer Purdy said. “And she said she want to come in and thank me, and take a picture, and she said she’s going to help try to spread the word around, so other people know to not text and drive.”
According to Officer Purdy, this is the best possible response for someone who receives a ticket.
“That’s the whole point of issuing citations,” he said. “We never issue citations for money. We issue citations, and the main goal is to change behavior. We want to make people aware of their behavior, and try to elicit some kind of change to make the roadway safer. So, by having somebody come in and say, ‘Hey, you really did change my behavior, you made me more aware of what I was doing, and I appreciate it, thank you,’ that doesn’t happen too often, so that was kind of special.”
According to Officer Purdy, that’s the first time anyone ever thanked him for a ticket. “No, I’ve never actually been thanked for a ticket, and I certainly haven’t had somebody come into the station, and asked to give me a hug, because they’re so thankful for it. That’s definitely a first.”
So, what are the rules? Can I use my cell phone when I’m stopped at a red light?
“You cannot,” Officer Purdy said. “You can’t use electronic communication device like a telephone or cell phone when you’re stopped at a red light. So, you see a lot of people who are stopped at the red light, and they’re texting. And under Illinois state law that’s still illegal. The only time you can use a cell phone when you’re driving is if you pull over on the shoulder of the road, and your car is in neutral or parked.
“So, it’s best if you’re going to make a phone call like that, before you start driving,” Officer Purdy continued, “you can put it on speaker-phone, and then set the phone down, and you can talk, with it on speaker-phone, but you can’t actually pick it up and press buttons and text, even if you’re stopped at a red light.”
According to the National Safety Council, “Every day, at least nine Americans die and 100 are injured in distracted driving crashes. Cell phones, dashboard touchscreens, voice commands, and other in-vehicle technologies pose a threat to our safety. The consequences of those distractions are not worth the convenience they offer. Ignore the distractions and #justdrive to keep us all safer on the roads.”
A lesson Ms. Johnson hopes to help spread so fatal crashes, like the one that inspired her to return to say “Thanks,” never happen again.