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Hands-free driving bills get another go

cell phone on table
William Hook

Michigan House lawmakers heard testimony Tuesday over legislation to ban hands-on cell phone use while driving.

It would apply to actions like making phone calls, using social media at a stoplight, or recording a video.

Democratic Representative Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) said the state’s current anti-texting while driving law hasn’t kept up with the times.

“Right now, while Michigan law says no texting while driving, cell phone use while driving is not currently banned unless you are a driver that is on a level 1 or level 2 graduated status or on a permit,” Koleszar told the House Transportation, Mobility and Infrastructure Committee.

The bipartisan legislation does make exceptions for hands-free and GPS technology designed to be used while driving.

Under the package, police could treat being on the phone while behind the wheel as the primary reason for issuing a ticket.

But it wouldn’t give law enforcement enough cause to search a vehicle, driver, or passenger.

Jerome Reide is the Michigan Department of Civil Rights legislative liaison. During Tuesday’s hearing, he testified against one of the bills in the package, HB 4250.

He said the bill, as currently written, wouldn’t do enough to reduce the risk for racial discrimination during traffic stops.

“It needs to have a training component for police officers in it. To just state in the bill that officers won’t use this as a pretext for other types of investigation or stops is not sufficient,” Reide said.

As far as punishments go, the package would make handling a phone while driving a civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine and or possibly 16 hours of community service for a first offense. A second offense would be a $250 fine with 24 hours of community service.

Three offenses within three years would lead to a license suspension of up to 90 days.

The effort to make Michigan a “hands-free” state is years old. But similar bills have stalled in past Legislatures.

Surviving families of those who have died in distracted driving incidents made the case for immediate action during Tuesday’s hearing.

Alexa Kiefer’s family has been pushing for that to change since losing her brother to a distracted driver in 2016.

“You guys all remember him as a victim and not really the person he truly was. And I’m just tired of being a victim, I’m tired of remembering my brother as a victim. He was so much more than that, so let’s get this done,” Kiefer told lawmakers.

The bills did not advance out of committee after Tuesday’s hearing. Committee chair Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights) indicated he supported the package but wanted to hold more hearings on it in the coming weeks before pushing it out.