April is distracted driving awareness month. It’s an important reminder for us to use this time to save lives and prevent car accidents. Distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. It poses serious dangers for all drivers, but especially teen drivers.
The need for distracted driving awareness is vital. Research has shown that a driver’s risk of being involved in a car accident increases dramatically when he or she uses a cell phone when driving. If you’re texting while driving, you’re 23 times more likely to be in a car accident. And you’re 12 times more likely to crash if you’re dialing a hand-held cell phone while you’re behind the wheel.
No age group is this more true than for teen drivers. As a group, teen drivers face a unique threat from distracted driving because the prefrontal cortex of their brains is still developing and scientifically they are less able to resist the dopamine hit and temptation to answer a text or a social media ping on their cell phones when driving a car.
Distracted driving makes an already dangerous situation even worse for young drivers which is why awareness is necessary. Research shows car accidents are – and have been for years – the #1 killer of teens between the ages of 15-20.
To learn more about teen drivers and distracted driving, please check out this awareness video:
How do we make the most of Distracted Driving Awareness Month?
To make the most of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we need to: (1) educate the public about the dangers of driving while distracted; (2) call for better enforcement of existing laws; (3) pass a hands-free law to end hand-held cell phone use; and (4) we need to do better to stop dangerous distracted-driving behaviors.
Car crash risks and what we can do beyond distracted driving awareness month
Though awareness of distracted driving can help reduce our risk of being involved in a car accident, the #1 thing we can do is to put our phones away when we are behind the wheel. Today, make a pledge to yourself and to your family that you will no longer text while driving.
Eliminating cell phone-related distractions is the best place to start because the crash risks associated with texting and using the phone while driving put everyone on the road in serious danger:
- Drivers who are texting are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
- Drivers who are dialing a handheld cell phone are 12 times more likely to crash, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Statistics for all drivers
In recognition of distracted driving awareness month, our attorneys wanted to share the following statistics:
- Fatal distracted driving-related auto accidents (i.e., where a driver was using a cell phone) in Michigan increased nearly 17% (16.6%) between 2017 and 2021.
- Distracted driving-related car crashes (i.e., where a driver was using a cell phone) in Michigan decreased nearly 10% (9.7%) between 2017 and 2021.
- Distracted driving was a factor in 8% of all fatal crashes, 14% of all injury crashes and 13% of all motor vehicle crashes in total in the U.S. in 2020.
- 6% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes in the U.S. in 2020 were distracted at the time of the crashes.
Statistics for teen drivers
Being distracted while driving is extremely dangerous for teen drivers. In honor of distracted driving awareness month our attorneys wanted to share the following statistics:
- Nearly 23% of the drivers involved in distracted driving-related crashes in Michigan in 2021 were between the ages of 15 and 20 years of age.
- More than 19% (19.3%) of the drivers who were using cell phones when they were involved in crashes in Michigan in 2021 were 20 years of age or younger.
- 8% of the distracted drivers who were involved in fatal crashes in the U.S. in 2020 were teens 15 to 19 years old.
- 7% of the teen drivers (aged 15 to 19) who were involved in fatal crashes in the U.S. in 2020 were distracted at the time of the crash. NHTSA states: “This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the fatal crashes.”
- 7% of the teens who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2020 were in crashes that involved distracted driving.
Michigan laws that affect distracted drivers
Currently, Michigan law addresses only the following types of distracted driving: (1) drivers of all ages are prohibited from using a hand-held cell phone to text while driving; and (2) teen drivers are prohibited from talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. (See MCL 257.602b(1); 257.602c(1))
The cell phone ban for teen drivers is known as Kelsey’s Law. (MCL 257.602c(6)) Unfortunately, in its current form, Kelsey’s Law contains a loophole which allows teen drivers to use a cell phone while driving so long as they are “using a voice-operated system that is integrated into the motor vehicle.” (MCL 257.602c(1) and (3))
Every year, we offer our Kelsey’s Law Distracted Driving Awareness Scholarship which awards $5,000 in scholarships to Michigan high school students who create the most convincing messages to convince their peers to refrain from driving while distracted. Click here to learn more.
Legal updates for distracted driving awareness month
Distracted driving awareness month is an excellent time to urge your state lawmakers to support pending legislation which would: (1) ban all drivers’ use of a hand-held cell phone to engage in distracting behaviors; (2) increase fines and penalties; and (3) close the “voice-operated” loophole in Kelsey’s Law.
In March 2023, lawmakers in the Michigan Senate and Michigan House of Representatives introduced Senate Bills 231, 239, 240 and 241 and House Bills 4250, 4251 and 4252, which would make the following changes to Michigan law to address the dangers of distracted driving for drivers of all ages, including teen drivers:
- Drivers of all ages would be prohibited from using a hand-held cell phone to engage in any of the following behaviors while driving: (1) sending or receiving a telephone call; (2) sending, receiving, or reading a text message; (3) viewing, recording, or transmitting a video or image; (4) accessing, reading, or posting to a social networking site; (5) playing games; (6) conducting an internet search; and (7) writing, reading or sending email messages or instant messages. (SB 231, SB 239 and HB 4250)
- Fines for violations would start at $125 and increase to $250 for second or subsequent violations.
- Distracted drivers could get points on their driving record.
- Distracted drivers could face having their driver’s license suspended.
- The “voice-operated system” loophole in Kelsey’s Law would be closed so that teen drivers would be completely prohibited from using a cell phone while driving, regardless of whether it is a hand-held or hands-free phone.
Hands-free exception in pending distracted driving legislation
The legislation contains an exception which allows use of a cell phone while driving if the phone is in “voice-operated or hands-free mode.” However, as written, this “hands-free” exception does not have the safety benefits we may expect because it still allows drivers to engage in extremely dangerous behaviors.
As noted above, the bills propose to prohibit drivers from using a hand-held cell phone while driving to engage in such extremely dangerous driving behaviors as: (1) sending or receiving a telephone call; (2) sending, receiving, or reading a text message; (3) viewing, recording, or transmitting a video or image; (4) accessing, reading, or posting to a social networking site; (5) playing games; (6) conducting an internet search; and (7) writing, reading or sending email messages or instant messages. (SB 231, SB 239 and HB 4250)
But the bills also provide that this prohibition “does not apply” when a driver is using his or her cell phone in “a voice-operated or hands-free mode.” (SB 231, SB 239 and HB 4250)
That means that under the current wording of the bills, if a driver were to use his or her cell phone in voice-operated or hands-free mode while driving, then he or she is not prohibited from using the phone to engage in any of the extremely dangerous forms of distracted driving described above.
As these bills proceed through the Legislature, lawmakers will need to tighten up the “hands-free” exception to make clear that these dangerous driving behaviors will be prohibited under all circumstances – regardless whether a driver is using a hand-held or hands-free cell phone.
It is very important to remember that “hands-free” cell phone use while driving is not “risk-free” cell phone use. Most people do not know that the science clearly shows that hands-free driving can be just as dangerous as using a hand-held cell phone when driving a car.
During Distracted Driving Awareness Month, let’s do better to avoid dangerous distracted driving behaviors
During Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we need to let lawmakers know that the time has come to follow the science and stop lagging behind it. We need to do better to stop dangerous distracted-driving behaviors, regardless of whether we are engaged with a cell phone, a tablet, or any other type of distraction when driving a car.
One of the most shocking things about the pending legislation is its highlighting of the fact we do not currently have laws that specifically ban drivers on Michigan roads from engaging in driving behaviors that are so obviously, clearly and undeniably dangerous and potentially dangerous as:
- Viewing, recording, or transmitting a video or image;
- Accessing, reading, or posting to a social networking site;
- Playing games;
- Conducting an internet search; and
- Writing, reading or sending email messages or instant messages.
Just think of how distracting those behaviors are when you are at home, sitting on your sofa or at the dining room table, or when you’re supposed to be on a date or having dinner with your spouse.
Now, think about how dangerous those distracting behaviors are when you’re trying to do them while you’re hurtling through time and space at 70 mph in a vehicle that weighs two tons or more.
Yes. It’s well past the time for lawmakers to take action to stop the serious and real dangers of distracted driving.
Were you injured in a distracted driving car accident? Call a Michigan Auto Law attorney for a free consultation
If you or a loved one was injured in a distracted driving car accident and you have questions about what to do, you can call us toll free anytime 24/7 at (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys. We will answer your questions about your and your family’s legal rights to pain and suffering compensation, economic damages and auto No-Fault insurance benefits, and settlements in cases like yours. There is absolutely no cost or obligation. You can also get help from an experienced injury attorney by visiting our contact page or chat feature on our website.
(Sources: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute research; Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, Fact Sheets, Teens/Young Adults – Ages 15-20, 2021; Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, Fact Sheets, “Cell Phone Use,” 2021, 2020; NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts – Research Note, “Distracted Driving 2020,” published 2022; Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, Data Query Tool, Filters, “Crash: Driver Distracted (2016+),” “Driver Age” (“15 Years Old” through “20 Years Old”); NHTSA, Teen Distracted Driver Data, “Teens and Distracted Driving 2020,” published May 2022)