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Attorney Brandon Hewitt talks distracted driving law on WZZM Grand Rapids

May 18, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

New distracted driving law is a good idea, but any distracted driving law must have tougher penalties for drivers to put down phones

Sponsors behind a recent proposed distracted driving law in Michigan are hoping that increasing penalties will give drivers sufficient reason to stop texting, watching videos, and playing games while driving.

Michigan Auto Law attorney Brandon Hewitt told Grand Rapids TV station WZZM on May 17 that the proposed distracted driving law has good intentions, but the penalties in any distracted driving law will need to be harsher for it to be effective:

“I commend what they’re trying to do, because I think that people are not taking distracted driving seriously. Everybody knows that it’s dangerous, and yet most people will admit to still doing it. Science is there to show that texting and driving, distracted driving is just as if not more dangerous than drinking and driving. But the penalties are not even close to the same.”

Under House Bill 4466, first-time offending distracted drivers would be fined $250; second-time or subsequent offenders would be slapped with $500 along with 1 point on their driving record; and third-time or subsequent offenders would be hit with 2 points.

Drunken-driving fines, on the other hand, are double what HB 4466 is proposing.

Distracted driving law needs to be proportional to the severity of the dangers and the spike in car accidents caused by it

The number of car crashes, injuries and deaths caused by distracted driving are reaching “epidemic levels” that we have never seen before, as I told WXYZ just yesterday. As an accident attorney, distracted driving — and especially texting while driving — is increasingly the cause of many of the crashes that hurt the people I represent. It is also the primary cause of a staggering one year 11% increase in pedestrian fatalities from people struck by cars.

Between 2014 and 2015, Michigan saw a 100% increase in fatalities from distracted-driving car accidents, according to the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center.

Distracted Driving related car crashes are increasing in Michigan

The MSP also reported:

  • Distracted driving-related injuries in Michigan increased 44% from 2,401 in 2014 to 3,472 in 2015; and
  • Distracted driving-related car accidents in Michigan increased 40% from 5,353 in 2014 to 7,516 in 2015.

Additionally, the MSP reported that in a statewide telephone survey conducted by the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, “41 percent of young adult drivers admitted to sending texts and emails on a regular basis while driving” even though “Michigan law prohibits drivers from reading, manually typing or sending a text message while driving …”

Finally, the National Safety Council reports that 1 in 4 auto accidents now involves cellphone use.

If 1 in 4 auto accidents involved alcohol instead of distracted driving, the potential legal penalties would be significantly higher than what we are discussing now for HB 4466.

Michigan needs a distracted driving law, and we need to convince lawmakers that based upon the dangers to the public that this poses, and the numbers of people being injured and killed in car crashes involving distracted driving, that now is the time to increase penalties and boost enforcement.

The science shows that distracted driving can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol — shouldn’t the penalties and enforcement be taken just as seriously? The Grand Rapids TV station noted in its story that no Grand Rapids police officer has issued a ticket for texting and driving since the law was passed in 2010. A law that is not enforced becomes merely a suggestion for drivers to choose to follow or ignore.

Current law bans only texting while driving, and it is a secondary offense, meaning a driver cannot be pulled over just for texting and driving.

Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township), is right to target cellphone use as a major cause and contributor of preventable car crashes in this state. Hopefully, the HB 4466 sponsor, along with Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy), was serious when told WZZM that “enough is enough.”

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