With Global Youth Traffic Safety Month here, a proposed teen drivers distracted-driving law that closes a Kelsey’s Law loophole over cellphone use is timely
Kelsey’s Law currently bans teen drivers in Michigan with a Level 1 or Level 2 graduated license from using a phone while driving. But should it also be extended to prohibit teenage drivers from using a “hands-free” or “voice-activated” device?
And with Global Youth Traffic Safety Month under way, the timing couldn’t be better for a serious revisit of the intent and purpose of Michigan’s teen drivers cellphone laws — and whether the existing law should be extended.
I’m an auto accident attorney. I help people who are hurt in car accidents and truck accidents. So I do have some personal knowledge of how dangerous cellphones are and how often cellphones and texting are popping up as the cause of many of the car crashes I litigate.
Distracted driving is, sadly, on the rise.
That means teen drivers (who also have in general less experience and worse driving judgment) are particularly susceptible to the dangers of talking on the phone, texting, searching the Internet and using social media. While driving a car.
Plus, we know from undisputed research by the AAA-Foundation for Traffic Safety that:
Driving while using hands-free communication devices is not “risk-free” and “the impairments to driving [resulting from “voice-based interaction”] … may rise to the level associated with drunk driving …”
Why our accident attorneys support the Kelsey’s Law Scholarship for teen drivers
Importantly, to honor the memory of Kelsey Raffaele, whose tragic cellphone-related death led to the enactment of Kelsey’s Law, and to advance the safety mission being served by Kelsey’s Law, my law firm sponsors the annual Kelsey’s Law Scholarship: Stop Distracted Driving Contest.
Plus, now that we’re into the month of May, hopefully more people are aware of the issue. Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, organized by the National Organizations for Youth Safety, aims to improve awareness by bringing attention to the leading cause of death for teenagers: traffic-related crashes.
For all of these reasons, I fully support Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy)’s proposed distracted driving bill, House Bill 4466, to extend Kelsey’s Law to a hands-free or “voice-operated system that is integrated into the motor vehicle.”
Thankfully, I’m not alone in my support.
I talked with Kelsey’s mother, Bonnie Raffaele, who was the driving force behind the enactment of Kelsey’s Law. Here’s what she had to say about Rep. Howrylak’s proposal to stop teen drivers from using “voice-operated” devices to talk on the phone while driving:
“I didn’t know about the bill. I just reached out to the Rep. Thanks for letting me know. I wanted the Kelsey’s Law to include that back in 2012, but they wouldn’t go for it. So I took what I could. I would love to work with him on it.”
In light of the fact that Kelsey’s Law applies to teen drivers with a Level 1 or Level 2 graduated driver’s license, Bonnie also weighed in on changes she’d like to see to Michigan’s “graduated licensing” system (MCL 257.310e(6)(b) and (5)(d)):
“I also believe that the GDL needs some changes. Like the number of passengers in the car [with a teen driver who has a “level 2 graduated licensing status”]. There shouldn’t be ANY exceptions [to the rule that the Level 2 teen driver has no “more than 1 passenger in the vehicle who is less than 21 years of age”]. They have: If you are related (brother sister, etc.), then the number of non-licensed passengers doesn’t apply.”
“I believe that there should be more practice hours to the GDL. I believe right now it is 50 hours. A hairdresser has to have 1,000 hours before they can become licensed. We give our most vulnerable drivers keys with only 50 hours of practice.”
What is Kelsey’s Law and how does it stop distracted driving among teen drivers?
After 17-year-old Kelsey Raffaele of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, tragically lost her life in a cellphone-related car crash in 2010, her mother, Bonnie Raffaele, successfully urged lawmakers to take action to save teen drivers’ lives.
The result was Kelsey’s Law (MCL 257.602c), which took effect in March 2013 and which provides:
A teen driver with “a level 1 or level 2 graduated license … shall not use a cellular telephone while operating a motor vehicle upon a highway or street … to initiate a call; answer a call; or listen to or engage in verbal communication through the cellular telephone.” (MCL 257.602c(1))
One exception to the ban is for a teen driver “using a voice-operated system that is integrated into the motor vehicle.” (MCL 257.602c(3))
Rep. Howrylak’s HB 4466 would eliminate this exception.
Has your high-school junior or senior applied for our Kelsey’s Law Scholarship?
The second annual Kelsey’s Law Scholarship: Stop Distracted Driving Contest — whose purpose is “to inspire change in teens who drive distracted and help prevent car accidents” — is open to Michigan high school juniors and seniors.
The deadline for applying is August 31, 2017. The application form can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the Kelsey’s Law Scholarship page.
Applicants are asked to submit a persuasive message — in the form of YouTube video, graphic or tweet — that shows how he or she would convince young drivers to reduce distractions while driving.
In October, the winners are announced and awarded a combined total of $5,000 in scholarships. This will coincide with National Teen Driver Safety Week.