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Know the Law – Proposed crackdown on distracted driving

Posted at 6:27 AM, May 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-20 06:29:31-04

Cell phones are a leading cause of distracted driving accidents in Michigan and across the United States. In fact, drivers who use a cell phone behind the wheel are four times more likely to be in a crash serious enough to cause injury.

Although the motor vehicles we drive are getting safer, people are dying and suffering injuries in auto accidents at a higher rate. In Michigan, car crash fatalities rose more than 14.5 % between 2012 and 2016. This increase is attributed to one thing: distracted driving.

In Michigan, it is currently illegal to text while driving. The no-texting law has been on the books since 2010. However, enforcement of the law has been a bit disappointing, as distracted driving accidents, injuries and deaths continue to increase across the state.

Simply put, the current no-texting-while-driving law is outdated, for several reasons. First, the existing law does not make it illegal to text and drive; it basically says that no one shall send a text in a vehicle that is moving. This seems to indicate that drivers can send text message while sitting at a red light or stopped in traffic. Second, smart phone technology now allows users to perform all sorts of functions on their phones -- not just texting. Cell phone users can also send emails, use social media, play games, snap photos and browse the Internet.

These advancements in smart phone technology are one reason why Michigan lawmakers have introduced House Bill 4466. The legislation seeks to ban the use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) in the hands of all persons behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. The goal? Getting Michigan drivers to focus their attention on the roadway.

Under House Bill 4466, a PED includes: 1) cell phone, 2) laptop, 3) personal digital assistant, 4) electronic game, 5) pager, 6) broadband personal communication device, 7) two-way messaging device, 8) navigation device or GPS device, 9) device that has mobile data access, 10) portable computing device and 11) “any other electronic device that is used to conduct a search or to input, write, send, receive or read text for present or future communication” The legislation further says that “using” a PED is holding the device while: 1) conducting a search, 2) playing games, 3) viewing, taking or transmitting an image or video, 4) performing a command or request to access an Internet page, or 5) “composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving, or retrieving an email message, text message, instant message or other electronic data”

Notably, House Bill 4466 would allow “hands-free” use of PEDs, including cell phones. This would include voice-activated commands or one-touch access (i.e., swiping).

In addition to making cell phone use behind the wheel illegal, House Bill 4466 includes harsher penalties than the current no-texting law. The existing no-texting law imposes fines, but does not impose points on the offender’s driving record. However, under House Bill 4466 a first offense would be $250 (no points); a second offense would be $500 and 1 point on the person’s driving record; and a third or subsequent offense would be $500 and 2 points on the person’s driving record.