In his most recent appearance on WZZM 13’s “Just Drive” episode, Michigan Auto Law attorney Brandon Hewitt talked about distracted driving, Michigan’s efforts to curb this dangerous and deadly behavior and how drivers can stay safe this summer.
Even though awareness about the dangers of distracted driving has increased significantly in recent years, Brandon cautioned that there continues to be a great deal of room for improvement.
“It’s sad and it’s disturbing,” attorney Brandon Hewitt said. “We’ve been talking with [WZZM and your viewers] for about a year now on this issue and, unfortunately, it looks like things are getting worse, not better. So the more we can do to bring this to the attention of everybody and really take it seriously, the better I think everybody’s going to be.”
The statistics paint a troubling picture:
- In 2017, there were 20,000 crashes involving distracted driving, resulting in 72 fatalities
- Between 2016 and 2017, Michigan saw a 57% increase in distracted driving crashes and a 67% increase in fatalities from those crashes
Fortunately, attorney Brandon Hewitt explained, Michigan is striving to combat the risk posed by distracted driving:
“So certain cities, Battle Creek, for example, are taking things a step further. They’re banning all cell phone use, period. . . . [A] couple of bills [have been introduced in the Legislature] that are going to take on no social media use, no e-mails use and actually introducing requirements of hands-free phone use. So no more [handheld phone use]. It’s got to be on Bluetooth or through the speaker of your phone.”
This is welcome news because, as attorney Brandon Hewitt points out, the “statistics show that texting and distracted driving is just as or more dangerous than drinking and driving.”
One of the many ways in which Michigan Auto Law is trying to make a difference is through its Kelsey’s Law Scholarship which encourages Michigan high school juniors and seniors to craft messages to persuade their peers to stop distracted driving – or better yet to never allow it to become part of their driving routine.
Attorney Brandon Hewitt explained why it’s so important to reach out to and connect with teen and young drivers:
“They’re the most affected. But we also think they’re the most effective in getting this message out as far as teaching people to not drive distracted. So what we’ve done, we’ve partnered with Bonnie Raffaele, whose daughter unfortunately passed away from a distracted driving crash at 17 years old . . . she’s responsible for Kelsey’s Law, which prohibits cell phone use for teen drivers. So we’ve partnered with her and each year we give away $5,000 in scholarships to Michigan high school students in an effort to get the message out as far as giving us a graphic, a video or a tweet that we can help convince people to take distracted driving more seriously.”
To see attorney Brandon Hewitt’s full interview with WZZM, check out the video below.
Bills to strengthen Michigan’s distracted driving laws
House Bills 4181, 4198 and 4199 are proposed to strengthen Michigan’s distracted driving law by expanding on Michigan’s texting ban, which currently only prohibits texting while driving, to apply to phones and other devices such “computers, tablets, electronic games, cameras and video devices” as well as prohibit accessing social media and watching videos.
Similarly, House Bills 4181 and 4198 propose to expand Kelsey’s Law, which currently only prohibits teen drivers from using a cell phone while driving, by including the same restrictions as above. Additionally, under proposed changes to Kelsey’s Law, teen drivers would no longer be able to use “voice-operated” or hands-free devices.
Battle Creek’s new distracted driving law
Starting in February 2019, Battle Creek prohibits drivers from “engag[ing] in distracted driving within the City of Battle Creek.” Rule 409e of the Battle Creek Uniform Traffic Code – Chapter 410 (“Distracted Driving; Violation is a Civil Infraction”).
Significantly, the Battle Creek ordinance defines “distracted driving,” which is a civil infraction, as:
- “The physical manipulation of any 2-way wireless electronic communication device used for dialing numbers; or scrolling; or typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other text; or the sending, receiving and reading of any non-voice data in the device while the motor vehicle is in motion on any highway or street or place open to the general public within the City of Battle Creek. As used in this subsection, a wireless 2-way communication device does not include a global positioning or navigating system or cellular telephone that is affixed to the motor vehicle or radio service equipment used by a licensee of the Federal Communications Commission; and/or . . .”
- “The physical manipulation or handling of any wireless entertainment or electronic telephonic communication device for the purpose of speaking into, or listening to voice data, while the motor vehicle is in motion on any highway or street or place open to the general public within the City of Battle Creek.”