The state is saying ttyl to texting while driving. A day before Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm spoke to a crowd of University graduates in the Big House, she appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”to sign the ban into law. The new legislation will make the act a primary offense, slapping hefty fines on violators. While action must be taken to curb distracted driving, the state must ensure that the law is implemented and enforced fairly, with proper safeguards against abuse.

In January, the state Senate passed a bill deeming texting while driving a secondary offense. This meant that a driver could not be pulled over solely for texting while driving but could be charged additional fees for texting if he or she is pulled over for another reason. The legislation recently approved by Granholm declared the action a primary offense, meaning that police officers will be able to pull over a driver exclusively for texting and driving. While no points would be added to the violator’s driving record, he or she would be charged a $100 fine for the first offense and $200 for subsequent ones, according to The Associated Press.

There’s no doubt that texting — and other distracting activities like talking on a cell phone — while driving is extremely dangerous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that, in 2008, 5,870 people died and nearly half a million people were injured as a result of accidents involving distracted drivers. Texting while driving is a growing problem and a danger for all drivers, not just those who text. It is without question that some sort of legislation was necessary to make the state’s roads safer.

But Michigan isn’t the only state to recognize the dangers of texting while driving. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, there are 24 states that currently ban the practice. There is a growing realization among state governments of the need to take action themselves to deter distracted driving, as allowing local authorities to make the decision has produced a haphazard patchwork of different laws governing each separate community. It’s about time that Michigan joined these other states in a concerted effort to combat and reduce the dangers of texting while driving.

While maintaining the violation as a secondary offense would have prevented many potential problems with the new law, it is now the responsibility of police officers to implement and enforce the new regulations appropriately. It is inherently difficult to determine whether someone is texting while driving or using a cell phone in a legal manner, such as dialing a phone number. Proper safeguards must be implemented to ensure that law enforcement officials do not use the presence of a cell phone outside of the driver’s pocket as a presumption of guilt. Police officers enforcing this new law must remember that its intent is to keep roads safe, not make a suspect of anyone on the road carrying a cell phone.

Texting while driving not only endangers the offender — it creates a hazard for everyone on the road. But this legislation will only serve its goal properly if it is enforced in a way that doesn’t presume all drivers to be potential violators.

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