Bill would forbid drivers using smartphones in Michigan

Officials to crackdown on distracted driving

Drivers would be prohibited from using their hand-held electronic devices for any purpose while they’re driving under a bill that a House committee is considering.

It’s illegal now to text while driving, but the new bill would add penalties for using a hand-held smartphone to make calls, check-e-mail, use Twitter or Facebook or browse the Internet. People would still be able to use hands-free means, such as a bluetooth, to make calls.

Testimony before the House Transportation Committee became a personal confessional for proponents of the bill. State Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, sponsored the legislation. His Chrysler 300 was totaled last year by a driver who was playing "Pokemon Go!" and rear-ended him on Big Beaver in Troy.

“Not hitting you at 42 miles per hour is less important than finding the Pokeman, I guess,” Howrylak said.

And for Laurel Zimmerman of Oakland Township, the loss was much greater. Her daughter Ally Zimmerman was a passenger in a car that was T-boned by a distracted driver in December 2010. She died a few days later in January 2011.

“The loss of a child by a careless, random, unnecessary act never goes away. It’s every second, it’s every morning,” she told lawmakers, adding that while she was going through losing her daughter, she used her son’s car, which had expired vehicle tags. “The fine I received for expired tags was more than my daughter’s life. There is no money, no fine, no insurance settlement that brings back your child.”

The charge against the driver of the vehicle that struck Zimmerman’s daughter was reduced to a traffic citation, and she was sentenced to three months’ probation and given a $200 fine.

Auburn Hills Police Chief Doreen Olko said it’s nearly impossible to enforce the current law, because it only applies to texting and drivers will often say that they weren’t texting while driving.

“The current laws are nearly impossible for us  to enforce because we don’t know what people are doing on their phones,” she said. “We’re here to ask you to give us a law that we can enforce.”

Michigan State Police Sgt. Matt Williams told the committee that there were 42 fatalities linked to distracted driving in 2016 and that’s up from the 28 fatal crashes in 2015. “And we think that number is under-reported,” he said.

The bill would make using a hand-held device a crime carrying a punishment of a $250 fine for the first offense, and a $500 fine and one point on a license for a second offense. Any subsequent offenses would have penalties of a $500 fine and two points on a license.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia prohibit any type of use of electronic devices while driving, but many other states merely prohibit the hand-held use of the devices. Jim Santilli, chief executive officer of the Transportation Improvement Association of Michigan, said California’s ban on hand-held devices has resulted in a 40% drop in the use of electronic devices by the state’s drivers.

The committee didn’t vote on the bill — HB 4466 — Tuesday, but is expected to take it up shortly.

“I do support the bill, because if you’re stopped at a traffic light, look to your left and right, and all the people are on their cell phones,” said Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township. “It’s an epidemic with these devices.”

© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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