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Distracted driving bills on their way to Whitmer

Ohio Department of Transportation

Bills to forbid the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving are on their way to Governor Gretchen Whitmer for her signature. That’s after the House gave its final approval on Thursday.

The three bills would expand Michigan’s existing ban on texting while driving to include a ban on driving while holding a phone or looking at a screen. It’s taken years of negotiation to get to this point and some Republicans and Democrats still voted “no” over concerns about a law being used to improperly stop drivers.

But Representative Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) said there are safeguards in the legislation – and said it’s a fact that driving while using devices is risky.

State Representative Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) is a sponsor of distracted driving legislation on its way to Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network
State Representative Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) is a sponsor of distracted driving legislation on its way to Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

“We are going to save lives and I think that’s something we can all celebrate,” he told Michigan Public Radio.

The bills would set fines starting at $100 for a first offense and going up to $250. People would also have to take a mandatory driver’s education course after a third offense within a three-year period. Koleszar said ticketing people for distracted driving is no different than sanctions for speeding or other dangerous behavior on the road.

“We know that there are over three thousand distracted driving deaths in the United States every single year, and we only know that number from states that we actually keep track of,” said Koleszar. “The number is likely far higher.”

According to statistics provided by the governor’s office, 16,543 crashes 2021 in Michigan involved a distracted driver. Of those, 59 resulted in fatalities.

“Distracted driving kills,” said Whitmer in a statement provided to Michigan Public Radio.

“As we enter another record-breaking construction season, we need everyone to keep their eyes on the road so they can protect themselves, other drivers, and the hardworking men and women fixing our damn roads,” she said. “Let’s get this done so we can make our streets safer for every Michigander and ensure law enforcement have the tools they need to protect motorists.”

Once signed, the bills would take effect on Friday, June 30. The new law would have to be renewed in five years or it would expire.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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