GENESEE COUNTY-- Road safety is always important, but the issue becomes particularly acute when the busy summer travel season kicks off amid annual road construction projects.
There is a bipartisan effort in Lansing to outlaw using a cell phone-- or any other mobile electronic device-- while driving. A three-bill package, HB 4277, 4278 and 4279, introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives is aimed at reducing-- if not, eliminating-- distracted driving. Among the biggest problems, people sending and receiving text messages while behind the wheel.
“Any activity that takes yours eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel is reckless and puts you and others on the road risk,” said Spl/Lt. Kimberly Vetter, public information officers for Michigan State Police in Flint. Risk that could be deadly.
AAA Michigan cites National Highway Transportation Safety Administration figures that show distracted driving crashes killed 3,142 people across the country in 2019 including 71 in Michigan. Despite those numbers and the risk, many drivers just can't seem to put the cell phone down. Seeing that while driving makes people like Billy Turner feel unsafe. He would like to see a ban approved.
RELATED LINK: 2019 Distracted Driving Fatalities Fact Sheet - AAA
RELATED LINK: 2019 Traffic Crash Statistics - Michigan State Police
“I think that would make the roads a lot safer,” said Turner while visiting a Michigan rest stop along I-75 in Genesee County.
Benny Miller has an opposing viewpoint.
“I don’t think the government should be telling people more things that they need to be doing and not doing,” said Miller who lives in Thomas Township.
In addition to cell phone use, House Bill 4277 would ban other communication devices, computers, tablets and electronic games, among other things, while driving. The proposed legislation includes exceptions for active first responders, anyone reporting an emergency and for voice activated, hands-free calls or GPS navigation systems.
State Sen. Ruth Johnson, a Republican and former Michigan Secretary of State, also has reintroduced a bipartisan bill, SB 409, to crack down on distracted driving.
RELATED LINK: Read the Legislative Analysis Summary of House Bills 4277, 4278 and 4279 - Michigan Legislature
For law enforcement, the message is simple-- “Don’t take your eyes off the road to return a text or check Facebook or do any of those things that are so distracting with our cell phones,” said Vetter.
House Bill 4278, also part of the overall package, would set new penalties for those ticketed for distracted driving. For instance, some fines would increase and violators would be required to perform 16 hours of community service for a first offense and 24 hours of service for a second offense.
The package is now awaiting a second reading in the Judiciary Committee.