Rep. Howrylak (R-Troy) says a hand-held is dangerous enough to outlaw, but disregards mounted or hands-free cell phone devices, which also cause distracted driving car accidents
As National Teen Driver Safety Week begins Sunday, I’d like to first thank Rep. Martin Howrylak, a Republican legislator from Troy, Michigan, for his distracted driving bill.
My suggestion on how to make this legislation better comes from the fact that I’m an attorney who helps people who are injured in automobile accidents, and Rep. Howrylak is not. We both want to stop distracted driving, which I see it as a root cause of many of the auto accident injury cases I litigate.
Recently, I wrote about what was at the time – Rep. Howrylak’s proposal for hands-free-only cellphone use while driving. I wrote:
“‘Hands-free’ sounds safe. But ‘hands-free’ is not as safe as many people think and it does nothing to stop many other cellphone-related driving distractions.”
But now that Rep. Howrylak has laid out the specifics of his proposal in bill form, House Bill 5867, my concerns have increased.
I think this well-intentioned state rep is missing the forest for the trees: His legislation focuses too much on the devices that distract drivers and too little on the distracting behaviors themselves, that the science shows can be just as dangerous as a root cause of many preventable car accidents.
Rep. Howrylak proposes to prohibit drivers from using “a portable electronic device” to do “any of the following” while they’re “operating a motor vehicle that is moving on a highway or street in this state”:
- “Conducting a search.”
- “Viewing, taking, or transmitting an image or video.
- “Playing games.”
- “Performing a command or request to access an internet page.”
- “Composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving, or retrieving an email message, text message, instant message, or other electronic data.”
I strongly agree with Rep. Howrylak that these distracting activities should be banned and never engaged in by drivers while they’re driving.
But I don’t agree with what the Troy lawmaker proposes next in his HB 5867.
Distracted driving ban applies only to hand-held devices
Astoundingly, Rep. Howrylak wants to his distracted driving ban to apply only when the distracting behaviors are done on a hand-held device, i.e., by a driver who’s “hold[ing]” a “portable electronic device.” When they’re not, the ban doesn’t apply.
As an accident lawyer, this just makes no sense to me. There’s no logic to this false distinction in the bill between a driver who’s holding a portable electronic device (apparently so bad and dangerous it needs legislation to be made illegal) and not holding a device but who is still engaging in all of the same dangerous distracted driving examples above!
For instance, under Rep. Howrylak’s HB 5867, a driver can engage in the listed distracted driving behaviors so long as the “portable electronic device” they’re using is:
- “[M]ounted on the windshield, dashboard or center console”; or
- “[S]pecifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation …”
If the distracted driving behaviors identified by Rep. Howrylak are dangerous enough that they should be outlawed when a driver does them on a hand-held device, why are those same behaviors any less dangerous when they’re done on another device?
Simple answer supported by science: They’re not.
Dangerous driving behavior is dangerous driving behavior, regardless of the device involved.
‘Portable electronic device’
While I have my issues with the limited nature of Rep. Howrylak’s ban on distracted driving behaviors, I support HB 5867’s expansive definition of what constitutes a “portable electronic device”:
- “A handheld wireless telephone.”
- “An electronic wireless communication device.”
- “A personal digital assistant.”
- “A handheld device that has mobile data access.”
- “A laptop computer.”
- “A pager.”
- “A broadband personal communication device.”
- “A 2-way messaging device.”
- “An electronic game.”
- “A portable computing device.”
- “A navigation device or a GPS device.”
- “Any other electronic device that is used to conduct a search or to input, write, send, receive, or read text for present or future communication.”
On a related note, yesterday I wrote about the winners of our law firm’s first annual “Kelsey’s Law Scholarship Stop Distracted Driving Contest.” The scholarship is in honor of Kelsey Raffaele, who inspired Michigan’s teen driving law after she was tragically killed in a 2010 car accident using her cell phone.