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Distracted driving bills get Senate hearing

Distracted driving is a growing problem, accounting for at least 12 percent of road crashes worldwide. Young men are more likely to be distracted, a study finds.
Kathleen Finlay
Distracted driving is a growing problem, accounting for at least 12 percent of road crashes worldwide. Young men are more likely to be distracted, a study finds.

Repeated hands-on phone use while driving could lead to a license suspension. That’s under bipartisan bills that got a hearing Thursday before the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety Committee. Suspensions would kick in after three or more citations in a three-year period.

Michigan lawcurrently banstexting while driving but doesn't account for other types of phone use like scrolling social media or video calling.

Senator Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores), who’s among the package sponsors, told the committee that's where this legislation comes in.

“When these laws were written, most of us were just learning the world of the internet connectivity that was in our pockets. And the texting was a primary concern for cell phone use while driving. The laws have not really kept up with the technology that is available in front of us today,” Hertel said.

The bill package would make exceptions for devices in hands-free mode or GPS technology.

Under the bills, police could treat phone use as a primary reason for pulling someone over.

That’s led to some civil rights concerns over the possibility for increased traffic stops.

Senator Stephanie Chang(D-Detroit) chairs the committee.

She said she’s looking at separate legislation to address broader policing questions.

“We recognize that racial profiling exists, it’s been going on for a long time. Something that we absolutely need to address. And so, we know that there are folks who have raised that as a concern in relation to the distracted driving bills. In my mind, I think that we need to separate the two,” Chang said.

Tuesday, a vote was ended early in the House when some in that chamber declined to vote forsimilar bills without an answer to those concerns.

The effort to ban hands-on cell use while driving has been going on for years.

The Kiefer Foundation is a group dedicated to ending distracted driving.

Executive director Jamie Mistry says such “hands-free” legislation has worked outside of Michigan.

"We know based on data from many of the other 25 states which have now passed similar legislation that lives are saved every day as a result of these types of bills,” Mistry said.

Legislation in Michigan to band hands-on cell use beyond texting has never made it to the governor's desk.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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