MI House Transportation Committee unanimously adopted distracted driving bill, but how seriously will full House, Senate and Governor take this growing threat to public safety?
How many more people in Michigan must be killed and seriously injured before lawmakers do something to stop distracted driving?
At a recent hearing on Rep. Martin Howrylak (D-Troy)’s distracted driving proposal — House Bill 4466 — before the House Transportation Committee, written testimony was submitted which revealed the following deadly and dangerous trends:
- Fatalities from distracted driving car accidents in Michigan jumped 50% between 2015 and 2016.
- Injuries from auto accidents involving distracted driving increased 47%.
- Overall distracted driving car crashes in Michigan spiked 70%.
These numbers are staggering. And fortunately, the Committee responded appropriately. They voted unanimously to adopt HB 4466, which proposes to do the following:
- Ban forms of dangerous driving — such as using a phone to text, conduct Internet searches, watch videos and play games — that go beyond texting-while-driving.
- Impose harsher penalties for distracted drivers: A $250 fine for first offenders; a $500 fine for second or subsequent offender with 1 point on their driving record; and 2 points on the record of third or subsequent offenders.
The bill is expected to be the subject of another Committee hearing. Subsequently, it is likely HB 4466 will go to the full Michigan House of Representatives for consideration.
I agree with the assessment of my colleague, attorney Brandon Hewitt, which he recently shared with WZZM Grand Rapids in an interview about the distracted driving proposals in HB 4466:
“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.”
However, I believe that more can — and must — still be done.
As I told Kim Russell recently during an interview on WXYZ TV about the sharp spike in pedestrian-car accidents, distracted driving has reached epidemic levels. It is showing up more and more as the root cause of many of the car crash injury and death cases that I litigate.
The penalties must be increased for car wrecks caused by distracted driving. The principle tenet underlying much of our criminal law is that the sentence must be proportional to the crime, or as we have all heard “the penalty must fit the crime.” If the science shows that distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, and based upon the staggering increases in car crash injuries and deaths which I see firsthand as an auto accident lawyer that are being caused by distracted driving, then the penalties must be increased as well.
Given that the crash risk associated with distracted driving is similar to the crash risk associated with drunk driving the penalties for distracted driving should be proportional to the current criminal penalties for drunk driving. The penalties must fit the crime. Today people who would never drink and drive have no hesitation to take out their phones on the freeway and send a text to a friend. We need to do a better job educating the public on how dangerous distracted driving truly is, and the most effective way to do this is the same way we did it with drunk driving three decades ago.
Fatalities from distracted driving auto accidents in Michigan
Fatalities from distracted driving-related auto accidents in Michigan increased approximately 50% from 2015 to 2016 — from 28 to 42 fatalities, according to Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center data.
Significantly, distracted driving-related fatalities increased approximately 200% from 2014 to 2016 – from 14 to 42 fatalities.
Injuries from Michigan automobile accidents involving distracted driving
Injuries from Michigan automobile accidents involving distracted driving increased approximately 47% from 2015 to 2016 — from 3,472 to 5,104 injuries, according to Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center data.
Significantly, distracted driving-related injuries increased approximately 112% from 2014 to 2016 — from 2,401 to 5,104 injuries.
Car crashes involved distracted driving in Michigan
Distracted driving car accidents in Michigan increased approximately 70% from 2015 to 2016 — from 7,516 to 12,787 crashes, according to Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center data.
Significantly, auto accidents involving distracted driving increased approximately 138% from 2014 to 2016 — from 5,353 to 12,787 crashes.
(Sources: Michigan State Police, Dec. 1, 2016, news release, “41 Percent Of Michigan Young Adult Drivers Text And Email While Driving”; Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center/Traffic Crash Reporting System, “Distracted Driving Involved,” 3-page document submitted to the House Transportation Committee for May 16, 2017, hearing on House Bill 4466)