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Should Michigan ban cell phone use while driving a car?

June 9, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

USA Today reports 26% of all car crashes are caused by people talking on cell phones

Michigan cell phone ban

A recent traffic injury and fatality study by the National Safety Council found, according to USA Today, that:

“The use of cell phones causes 26% of the nation’s car accidents.”

That’s not a surprise to readers of this legal blog.  I’ve written regularly about many of the cases I’ve litigated that are caused by driver talking on cell phones and texting when they should be watching the road.

Cell phone use when driving is dangerous.  Using a cell phone is the leading cause of distracted driving, and cell phones are a cause or contributing factor in far too many preventable car accidents.

But I don’t think anyone ever suspected they could be the cause of 26% of all car accidents.  Unless there’s a fatality or truly catastrophic car accident that causes the investigating police to look at the cell phones of the drivers involved, it’s very rare for me as an attorney to find in the police report that that an officer has noted that the at-fault driver was using his cell phone.

Perhaps the only way to stop this is if Michigan passes a law that bans the use of hand-held cell phones by all drivers.

Michigan currently does not ban the use of cell phones by all drivers. Under Michigan law, only teen drivers are currently prohibited from using a cell phone while driving. (MCL 257.602c(1)) In March 2013, “Kelsey’s Law” was enacted in honor of Kelsey Raffaele, a Michigan teen who was killed in a cell phone-related car crash.

Nevertheless, the dangers of using a cell phone while driving are well documented.

Referring to the results of the National Safety Council study, USA Today noted:

“Only 5% of cell phone-related crashes occur because the driver is texting. The majority of the accidents involve drivers distracted while talking on handheld or hands-free cell phones.”

Similarly, last year’s study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded:

  • When compared to other distractions such as talking on a cell-phone (hand-held or hands-free), listening to the radio, or talking with a passenger, a driver’s use of “a speech-to-text system to send and receive text or e-mail messages” was the “most cognitively distracting.”
  • “Hands-free does not mean risk-free.”
  • “The lessons learned from the current research suggest that … the impairments to driving [resulting from “voice-based interaction”] … may rise to the level associated with drunk driving …”

For more information, check out Michigan Auto Law’s blog post, “Does ‘hands-free’ driving mean risk free?”

In 2011, when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) prohibited truck drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving, the FMCSA explained:

“The odds of being involved in a safety-critical event are six times greater while the driver is dialing a cell phone than when the driver is not dialing a cell phone.”

Also,  in 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board “called for the first-ever nationwide ban on driver use of portable electronic devices (PEDs)[hand-held cellphones] while operating a motor vehicle.”

Finally, the University of Utah made the following conclusions about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving:

“[C]ell phone use was associated with a 4-fold increase in the likelihood of getting into an accident and that this increased risk was comparable to that observed when driving with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit. … [D]riving performance was more impaired when drivers were conversing on a cell phone than when these same drivers were legally intoxicated.”

States without cell phone bans

Michigan, of course, is not alone in facing this problem.

There are currently 38 states (including Michigan) without bans on drivers’ hand-held cell phone use, according to the Governors Highway Safety Administration.

The 12 states that do have laws with  hand held cell phone bans, which “prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving,” are:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • West Virginia.

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