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Serving: MI

I easily tear up just thinking about what might have been

TAGS: Legislative
Jennifer Kiel truck with damaged front end
TOTALED: My son-in-law’s truck was totaled when a car failed to yield at a stop sign. Remarkably, all six passengers walked away, as well as three passengers in the car.
My Say: The Michigan Legislature is considering a ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving.

The words no mother ever wants to hear — “Mom, I was just in a really bad accident.” The only thing worse would be someone else calling to break the news.

Before my youngest, Emily, 24, could say another word, I blurted out … “Are you OK? Is everyone OK?" With broken speech, she managed to squeak out a confirmation that everyone appeared to be fine, apart from some bumps and bruises.

All in one vehicle with two other couples, Emily and her husband, Tyler, who was driving his truck, were headed to Frankenmuth, Mich., the last weekend in January for Zehnder’s Snowfest 2021, a pared-down version of Frankenmuth’s annual snow and ice festival.

That initial conversation was short, as Emily was still shaken. Details would follow. In the meantime, I praised God no one in their truck, or the car they hit, was severely hurt.

What happened?

While Emily’s group of six was heading to the festival, many visitors were leaving, creating about a 3-mile line of cars inching toward the expressway. A car went around this line and failed to yield at a stop sign.

Doing 55 mph, Tyler’s truck T-boned the car right behind the passenger’s door, slamming it across the street and into the ditch. Remarkably, and thankfully, they all walked away. Although, Emily was later diagnosed with a concussion and has since recovered.

The driver of the car with three occupants was cited for being at fault. It’s unclear why she did not stop for the sign, or why she was driving without a license and in an uninsured car. Clearly, she had no business driving. But what caused the collision? Was she distracted?

Although lawmakers at the state, federal and local levels are examining a wide variety of issues related to driver distraction, the most common concern is the potential distraction caused by cellphones and other technologies.

More than 220 million people in the U.S. subscribe to wireless services, and it’s estimated that as many as 80% of those subscribers use their phones while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New Michigan bills

It is against the law for any driver in Michigan to use a hand-held device to text while driving. However, talking on the phone while driving is banned only for teens on a driver’s permit, truck drivers and school bus drivers.

That may be changing. State Reps. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham; Mike Mueller, R-Linden; and Joseph Bellino, R-Monroe, in February introduced HBs 4277, 4278 and 4279 — a package of bills that would ban all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving, except in cases where people are reporting crashes or other emergencies. However, as is the case with texting, hands-free use would be allowed.

Twenty-four other states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, already prohibit the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, according to the Bureau of Transportation Services website.

All are primary enforcement laws, meaning an officer may cite a driver for using a hand-held cellphone without any other traffic offense taking place.

The National Council of State Legislatures has an interactive map where visitors can click on a particular state to see laws on electronic device use while driving. Visit ncsl.org.

Distracted drivers

According to Steven Gursten of Michigan Auto Law, mobile phone use-related car crashes increased about 48% between 2016 and 2019 in Michigan. Fatal mobile phone use-related crashes increased about 87.5% in the state during that same time frame.

While this package of bills will not eliminate all distractions, it’s another step in eliminating activity that takes focus off the road and traffic.

A few years ago, I remember calling a seed salesman I was using as a source in one of my stories. I got a recording simply explaining that while my call was important, he was driving and would return my call when he was not behind the wheel. About 20 minutes later, he returned my call, saying he had pulled over to take a break and catch up on business. Perfect.

Distracted driving is entirely avoidable. There’s no reason to be fumbling around with your phone or anything else — that goes for food, too. As we head into spring planting season and with more implements of husbandry on the road, I pray that you all stay safe, and that drivers are alert to slow-moving equipment.

I don’t know the details of why the car driver sailed through that stop sign — it might have been distracted driving, it might not. I do know that it only takes a few seconds and a bad decision to cause catastrophic and irreversible harm. Thankfully, in this crash, only a truck was destroyed and not futures.

Michigan Farm Bureau Insurance offers these facts to think about:

  • Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55 mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.
  • Ten percent of drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.
  • Drivers in their 20s make up 27% of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes.
  • Eleven teens die every day because of distracted driving.
  • Engaging in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.
  • One in 5 drivers of all ages admit to surfing the web while driving.
  • In 2011, at least 23% of auto collisions involved cellphones.
  • Twenty-seven percent of adults and 34% of teens say they text while driving. Plus, 15% of young drivers say they've seen their parent text while driving.
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