Michigan bills target driver distractions

| 8/8/2008

As state lawmakers prepare to head back to the Michigan statehouse Wednesday, Aug. 13, for their final push to approve bills before the regular session ends late this year, a legislative package that could come up for consideration is intended to improve safety on roadways.

The first bill would prohibit drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones while driving. Drivers would be prohibited from using the devices while behind the wheel. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” accessory would still be permitted.

Rep. Gino Polidori, D-Dearborn, said the proposed cell phone restriction – HB4982 – would help make the state’s roads safer.

“The state has seat-belt laws to protect drivers, and we prohibit drunken driving to eliminate threats to other drivers and innocent bystanders. A cell phone restriction would serve both purposes,” Polidori said in a written statement.

Another bill – HB5117 – would prohibit drivers from reading, writing or sending text messages.

The final bill in the package – HB5396 – would prohibit adding points to offenders’ driver’s licenses. Violations also would be enforced solely as a secondary offense – meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for breaking the rule.

Violators of the hand-held restriction would face $100 fines. Anyone found in violation of the texting ban would face up to $500 fines.

Exceptions would be made for emergencies.

Michigan allows local governments to adopt their own policies. However, there is no statewide ban.

California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington are the only states that have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones. The New Jersey and Washington state laws also prohibit text messaging. Minnesota recently approved its own ban on text messaging.

The package of Michigan bills has moved from the House Transportation Committee to the full House. If approved there, they would advance to the Senate for further consideration.

One more bill that is intended to make the state’s roads safer would put limits on novice drivers. Sponsored by Rep. Edward Gaffney, R-Grosse Pointe Farms, the measure – HB4151 – would prohibit drivers in the first year they are licensed from transporting more than one passenger under age 18 other than family members.

Exceptions would be made if drivers are accompanied by parents or guardians. Certain exceptions also apply for traveling to/from school.

The House-approved bill is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Michigan in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor