State legislators are in the process of finalizing legislation to ban drivers from texting while operating their vehicles.
The bill, which was recently passed by both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate, would outlaw the use of cell phones for reading or drafting text messages or e-mails while driving.
Under the law, texting or e-mailing would be a secondary offense, meaning that the driver would only be ticketed for texting after first being pulled over for another offense like speeding.
Before the legislation can become law, the House and Senate need to agree on a final version of the bill to send to Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm for approval.
State Rep. Lee Gonzales (D–Flint) introduced the bill to the House largely because of how the issue has impacted him on a personal level.
Gonzales said in an interview last week that his daughter-in-law was driving to work one morning, and while slowing in a construction zone, was rear-ended by a woman dialing her phone, totaling his daughter-in-law’s car.
At the time, Gonzales’ daughter-in-law was four-months pregnant, and Gonzales said he worried that if she had not been as far along in her pregnancy, then the accident could have killed the baby.
“Little Abigail had no problems when she was born, but had my daughter-in-law been two-months pregnant, maybe the force from the crash could have been fatal to Abigail when she was a fetus,” Gonzales said. “That’s what really inspired me to do this.”
Gonzales said he hopes the law will eventually become a primary offense, but he’s satisfied with the legislation’s current progress and sees it as a starting point for future changes.
“At least we can ban texting,” he said. “It will be a secondary offense, but at least we can get something out of it and we can make it better over time.”
State Rep. Pam Byrnes (D–Lyndon Twp.) said that if the bill is passed, in the future, texting will likely become a primary offense, which is similar to the progression of Michigan’s legislation regarding seatbelt use.
“I think that it probably should be a primary, but I don’t think you could get the majority of the people to make it a primary offense,” said Byrnes. “It’s about giving people a period of time to adjust to it, so I would expect that in years to come it will become a primary offense.”
Byrnes also said texting while driving is an issue many legislators are concerned about and willing to support as it makes the eventual move to federal legislation.
“We also know that there’s going to be federal regulations at some point in time that will require that we do this to receive our federal transportation dollars,” Byrnes added. “So we’re just trying to be proactive and make sure we have legislation that enforces the texting while driving.”
State Sen. Liz Brater (D–Ann Arbor) said she’s supportive of the bill, adding that legislation of this nature is often hard to pass.
“It’s better than the current situation,” she said. “At least it sends a message that this is an illegal activity that cannot be tolerated.”
State Sen. John Gleason (D–Flushing), member of the Senate Committee on Transportation, said he is worried that making the law a primary offense would cause drivers to earn high numbers of bad driver points, which would lead to high fees and fines.
“I really have mixed emotions on it,” he said. “We have a bad drivers fee where if you collect so many points you get a $1,000 fine. So this is a rather new law and I’d be concerned about more people that would qualify for the bad driver’s fee.”
Despite the penalties for drivers, he said he views the law as important to teaching about the value of driving safety.
“We have really a tremendous learning opportunity,” Gleason said. “I don’t want people to start getting tickets on the new law. I’d like to see it kind of get eased into place, but that can be accomplished just by advising and warning people about the offense.”
Kinesiology junior Lara Hitchcock echoed Gleason’s sentiments, adding that the legislation would be important for educating drivers.
“I think I’d be in support of it because I’ve tried texting while driving and it’s pretty difficult,” Hitchcock said. “And there’s times when I’m texting and I obviously should be paying more attention to the road rather than texting.”
In regards to it being a secondary offense, Hitchcock said that texting could likely be the cause of the primary offense in the first place.
“If you’re getting pulled over for a traffic offense in the first place, then obviously texting is affecting your driving,” Hitchcock said.
Business sophomore Solomon Ravich said he thinks cell phone regulation is important to preventing accidents and increasing driver safety. Ravich added that in his home state of New York, the use of cell phones while driving is prohibited without a headset device.
“Texting while driving is way worse than anything you can do,” said Ravich. “It takes your attention completely away from driving…I’m in support of (the legislation) because it would reduce accidents and help safety.”