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April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

April 1, 2019 by Steven M. Gursten

Raising Distracted Driving Awareness will save lives and prevent car crashes, especially among teen drivers; bills propose expanding protections of Kelsey’s Law

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month - Teen Drivers are at risk!

Let’s make Distracted Driving Awareness Month a time to focus on just how dangerous and deadly distracted driving has become.

Research has shown time and again that a driver’s car crash risk increases dramatically when he or she takes his or her eyes and attention off the road to text or use a cell phone.

This is especially true for teen drivers. As a group, the car accident crash risks associated with distracted driving have proven to be especially dangerous and, too often, deadly for teen drivers:

  • “Nine percent of drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes [in 2016] were reported as distracted. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the fatal crashes.”
  • “Thirteen percent of all the distracted drivers using cell phones [in distraction-affected fatal crashes in 2016] were 15 to 19 years old.”
  • “Ten percent of all teen motor vehicle crash fatalities in 2016 involved distracted driving.”
  • “In 2016, 339 people died in crashes that involved distracted teen (15 to 19) drivers”; “263 teens (15 to 19) were killed in distraction-affected crashes”; and “303 teen (15 to 19) drivers involved in fatal crashes were distracted.”
  • “Of the 3,076 motor vehicle drivers using cell phones” who were involved in crashes in 2017 in Michigan, “618 (20.1%) were 20 years of age or younger.”

(Sources: “Distracted Driving 2016,” NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts-Research Note, April 2018; “Teens and Distracted Driving 2016,” NHTSA, Teen Distracted Driver Data, March 2018; Michigan Traffic Crash Facts 2017, “Cell Phone Use” Fact Sheet)

For this year’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month, there are some recent developments to give us hope that there may be more progress in the near future for reducing the incidence of distracted driving among teen drivers:

  • Bills introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives propose to expand on the existing Kelsey’s Law by prohibiting teen drivers not only from using a cell phone while driving, but also prohibiting other forms of driving distractions. Additionally, the hands-free exception in the current version of Kelsey’s Law would be eliminated. Kelsey’s Law, which was enacted to remember and honor distracted-driving victim Kelsey Raffaele who lost her life in 2010, prohibits cell phone use by teen drivers with a Level 1 or Level 2 graduated license (Level 2 is when 16-year-olds can drive a motor vehicle without an adult in the state of Michigan).
  • The Mitchel Kiefer Foundation has launched its #HandsFreeMichigan campaign, which its campaign describes as “a non-profit, grassroots movement . . . to take another step forward in the fight to end distracted driving and all associated traffic deaths and injuries in the state of Michigan and all throughout the United States,” explaining that “Distracted Driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving, especially those that take your eyes off of the road or take your hands off of the wheel.”

This month is also an opportune time for Michigan high school juniors and seniors to start thinking about submitting their applications for the “2019 Kelsey’s Law Scholarship” to stop distracted driving contest. Not only will they have the chance to persuade their peers to refrain from distracted driving, but they may win a scholarship to help pay their college tuition. Don’t delay! The deadline to apply of August 31, 2019, is quickly approaching.

Kelsey’s Law and Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Kelsey’s Law, which took effect in 2013, was a tremendous, long-overdue step forward in terms of protecting teen drivers from the dangers of distracted driving.

Credit for the law goes in large part to Kelsey’s mother, Bonnie Raffaele, whose tireless advocacy and work with safety-conscious lawmakers won over the Legislature.

Bonnie Raffaele is a terrific person and safety advocate. I have the honor of partnering with Bonnie for our annual Kelsey’s Law Scholarship to stop distracted driving.

In February, two bills – House Bills 4181 and 4198 – were introduced which would change Kelsey’s Law to impose the following additional prohibitions on teen drivers:

  • No using a “mobile electronic device,” which the bill defines “mobile electronic device” to include cell phones, computers, tablets, electronic games, cameras and video devices and “any similar device that is readily removable from a vehicle and is used to write, send, or read text or data or capture images or video through manual input”
  • No wearing headphones/earphones in both ears
  • No accessing, reading and/or posting to social media
  • No viewing, recording or transmitting a video on a mobile electronic device
  • No using “voice-operated” or hands-free mobile electronic devices

Plus, the distracted-driving prohibitions imposed by Kelsey’s Law would no longer apply just to just teen drivers with “a level 1 or level 2 graduated license.” They would also apply to any teen driver or “individual who is under the age of 18.”

Car crash risks and what we can do beyond Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Here’s what the research has shown about the crash risk that drivers subject themselves to – and the other innocent drivers with whom they share the road – when their attention is directed at their cell phones instead of the road:

  • Drivers who are texting are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash and drivers who are dialing a handheld cell phone are 12 times more likely to crash, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
  • Drivers who are engaged in “visual-manual cell phone tasks” are 3 times more likely to drive off the road and crash and 7 times more likely cause a rear-end collision, according to the AAA-Foundation for Traffic Safety.

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