Michigan pushes for ban on handheld cellphone use while driving

LANSING-State lawmakers discussed pushing a measure across Michigan that would completely ban handheld cellphone use while driving, as data in the last few years has shown a significant increase in fatalities across the country due to distracted driving.

Advocates for the bill are hoping to get it passed by Memorial Day, just in time for the Summer when it has historically been the worst season for car accidents. While the legislation has not yet been voted out of a house committee, it follows the momentum of 25 other states that have passed similar laws.

The House Transportation, Mobility and Infrastructure Committee took testimony for nearly an hour in Lansing earlier this month and is expected to hold a second hearing to refer the bills to the House Floor. The bills have failed to advance under a Republican-led Legislature, but sponsors are hoping they’ll have better luck under the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

The bill would prohibit an individual from holding or using an electronic mobile device while operating a vehicle and also make amendments to the distracted driving section of Michigan’s current vehicle laws. Hands-free blue tooth usage is not being applied to the measure.

Details of the bill entail that a first offense of handheld cellphone use while driving would result in a civil infraction punishable by a $100 penalty, plus 16  hours of community service.

A second time offense would then increase the fine to $250, along with 24 hours of community service. The third offense within three years would result in the drivers license being suspended for up to 90 days.

Some pushback from the measure appears to be stemming from civil rights groups. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights testified in opposition to the bills because they don’t provide officer training to prevent the use of the law as a pretense for racial profiling in traffic stops. They are suggesting a 42-month study to ensure the law isn’t used to target certain races.

Data shows that fatal crashes involving distracted drivers are on the rise nationally. Nearly 6% of vehicle crashes in Michigan in 2021 involved distracted drivers, according to Michigan State Police.

Distracted drivers in Michigan are also more likely to be young people under the age of 21. While 6.7% of Michigan’s drivers are under the age of 21, 18% of the state’s distracted driving crashes involved drivers under this age.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and AAA Michigan is reminding drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

According to the agency, collisions are not only due to cell phone use, but other activities such as eating, driving, personal grooming, adjusting the radio, distracted by other passengers, and many other reasons. Their data shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles the risk of a car crash.

“Distracted drivers kill thousands of people every year,” said Adrienne Woodland, spokeswoman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “If you’re not focused on driving, you’re endangering the lives of everyone on the road. Please put the phone down and eliminate any other distractions when you get behind the wheel.”

Drivers that use cell phones while behind the wheel are up to four times as likely to be involved in a crash. Further, research shows that hands-free cell phones offer no significant safety benefits over handheld phones.

Distracted driving also endangers the lives of AAA tow providers and other emergency responders. An average of 24 emergency responders are struck and killed by a vehicle – while working on the roadside – every year. An attentive driver is more likely to notice an emergency worker on the roadside and move over.

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