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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Advocates for safer roads back Senate bill on distracted driving


By Sarah Downey | Feb 25, 2020


Supporters of a new law to curb distracted driving want the proposal to gain traction in the Michigan Legislature this session.

Senate Bill 288 would prohibit using cellphones and other hand-held portable electronics while driving. It would still let drivers access navigation systems and place calls if it is hands-free, and limited to one tap or swipe.

The bill is currently before the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, says it has support from the committee but whether there’s enough to move beyond that is not yet clear.

“We want to make sure we have [votes] on the floor,” Johnson told the Oakland Press. “Legislators would like to see how the system would work. We’re moving not as quickly as we might, but we’re moving. I think we’ll get it through. It’s just going to take some time.”

Jim Santilli, CEO of the Transportation Improvement Association in Troy, pointed to public safety as well as financial considerations.

Nearly 228 people have died and more than 24,000 have been injured across the state since the first version of a distracted driving law was introduced in 2016, Santilli said.

“I think it’s just the Legislature not understanding it’s a major issue,” he told the Oakland Press. “It’s not a priority. I’ve been disappointed with the resistance in the Legislature.”

It’s also hoped that passage of the law could make Michigan eligible for $2 million in grants from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Santilli added.

Supporters also note that SB 288 would also help strengthen the state’s 2010 law that bans texting while driving, which has presented enforcement difficulties.

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, who has been in law enforcement for 30 years, said legislation like SB 288 deserves consideration by lawmakers, particularly because most accidents are due to drivers not paying attention.

“You would hope at least to get a hearing to have some experts come to Lansing to testify,” he told the Oakland Press.

At least 20 other states have some version of a distracted driving law, according to Santilli.

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