Billboards have begun to line the highways across the state informing drivers and passengers of a new state law – which went into effect on Jun. 30 – prohibiting reading, writing or sending text messages on a cell phone while driving.
Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the legislation on The Oprah Winfrey Show on Apr. 30, making Michigan one of 28 states to ban text messaging while driving in an attempt to make the roads safer for fellow drivers and pedestrians alike.
The legislation states that if the vehicle is not moving, like at a stop sign, drivers can still text on their cell phones. The law also excuses text messages sent by drivers to report an emergency or a crime.
Under the new Michigan law, texting while driving is a primary offense. While violators will not receive any points on their driver’s license, first-time offenders will be issued a $100 fine and repeat offenders will face a $200 fine.
State Sen. Liz Brater (D–Ann Arbor) said she supports the texting ban based on the significant amount of evidence suggesting that it’s dangerous to send text messages while driving.
Paul Green, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, wrote in an e-mail interview with The Michigan Daily that scientific data reveals an increased chance for accidents to occur when a driver is text messaging while on the road.
“The risk ratio for a crash (is) about 14 times normal in one study, with other studies showing similar values,” Green wrote.
Green wrote that the risk ratio is increased while texting because it forces drivers to look away from the road for significant periods of time, and it’s difficult to steer when typing a message.
Green added that while it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will have an accident while texting and driving, but the risk is increased.
Ann Arbor City Council Member Christopher Taylor (D-Ward 3) said the ban will make the roads safer for everyone, adding that he believes the texting ban will be most effective after it receives sufficient publicity, especially since the legislation is generally accepted as a safety precaution.
Green, on the other hand, said he believes the texting ban’s success depends on the level at which police officers enforce it.
“Its effectiveness depends on enforcement and the extent to which not texting becomes the accepted social norm, just as wearing a seat belt is now accepted,” he said.
Lt. Renee Bush of the Ann Arbor Police Department said time will tell if the law is going to be hard to enforce, but said she believes people are generally concerned about safety and will recognize that the law is there to protect them.
Bush said police will be looking for drivers who are visibly typing on a cell phone or looking down while driving, and added that there will not be any discrimination based on age, and the police anticipate encountering violators of all ages and generations.
Bush added that the AAPD’s main concern is not writing tickets, but instead keeping the roads safe by discouraging drivers from being distracted as they are when texting while driving.
LSA sophomore Natalie Christian said she supports the ban given the possibility for text messaging to distract drivers from the road.
“Even though you may think it’s not affecting your driving skills, anything can happen in a matter of seconds,” Christian said. “That’s all it takes. I definitely see the ban having a positive impact.”
LSA sophomore Nicole Allen echoed Christian’s sentiment, saying she believes drivers should put down their phones and pay attention to the task at hand.
“People are way too plugged in nowadays, and we need to relearn how to focus on things like driving, which seems mundane to us even though one second of distraction on the road can change our lives forever,” Allen said.
LSA senior Kortni Malone said she agrees that texting is a distraction while driving and can have devastating effects.
“There are so many things that can happen in the blink of an eye,” Malone said. “It takes a text message longer than that to travel across carriers, but one wrong move can end a life. I’m sure that text can wait.”
According to Bush, no fines had been issued by the Ann Arbor Police Department as of Friday Jul. 2 at noon.