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Opinion | Let’s make Michigan roads safer, enact distracted driving law

The “smarter” our cellphones become, the bigger of a distraction they seem to be for drivers.

If you drive the same roads I do, you’ve likely seen people scrolling through TikTok or snapping videos from behind the wheel. I don’t think any of us would argue that these actions are smart.

Mike Mueller
State Rep. Mike Mueller, R-Linden, is serving his third term in the Michigan House of Representatives. He is a retired sheriff’s deputy.

Distracted driving is one of the fastest-growing safety issues on the roads today. In 2021, Michigan recorded 16,543 crashes involving a distracted driver — with 59 of those crashes resulting in a fatality, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

I spent a considerable amount of my career as a sheriff’s deputy on road patrol. So many of the devastating crashes I responded to could have been prevented if the driver had just kept their eyes on the road.

Taking one of the biggest distractions — cellphones — out of the equation will save lives. That’s why I am helping sponsor a bipartisan plan in the Michigan House that will do just that. Reps. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) and Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) are the other sponsors.

House Bills 4250-52 prohibit Michigan drivers from holding mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, in their hands while driving. Drivers would still be allowed to use hands-free technology to make calls, listen to music, or access GPS apps. The bills also make reasonable exceptions, like allowing people to use their phones to call 911 during an emergency or to report a crash.

Nationally, hands-free laws that require drivers to put smartphones and other devices away and focus on driving have proven successful.

In July 2020, Indiana started enforcing its hands-free law. That year, the number of crashes attributed to distracted driving fell dramatically from 10,132 in 2019 to 8,761 in 2020 – a 10-year low, and the law was only in place for half the year.

After the Hands-Free Georgia law was enacted on July 1, 2018, Georgia experienced a significant reduction in year-over-year traffic fatalities for the first time in more than 10 years, with traffic fatalities falling 3.4 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Michigan’s current ban on texting while driving simply isn’t doing enough. It’s too hard to enforce because it only applies to very specific activities. Not only does a law enforcement officer have to see a phone in someone’s hand, but they also must try to determine that a driver was texting — an accusation the driver can always deny by claiming they were using their GPS.

Enacting House Bills 4250-52 will draw a clear line and make sure Michigan drivers know they are expected to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel – not their mobile devices.

The Michigan House of Representatives signed off on our plan on May 2. I urge my colleagues in the Senate and Gov. Whitmer to do the same. This is a common-sense step we need to take as a state to save lives.

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