2012-03-22 / Editorial

Lifesaving decisions

Our Opinion

The Michigan Senate passed a bill recently that would ban hands-on cell phone use by new drivers.

Senate Bill 756 passed 28-10 in the Senate on March 15. Known as “Kelsey’s Law,” in memory of Kelsey Raffaele, a teenager who died Jan. 24, 2010 in a crash near Sault High School (Sault Ste. Marie) where she was a senior. It was determined Kelsey was talking on a cell phone when the accident occurred.

The bill, which has now been referred to the House Committee on Transportation, would prohibit drivers with a level 1 or 2 graduated drivers license status (new drivers age 17 or younger) from operating a motor vehicle while using a hands-on cell phone. With texting while driving already banned for all drivers in Michigan, this would keep cell phones out of the hands of young drivers and keep their hands on the wheel.

“While we will never know if Kelsey would still be here today if she wasn’t talking on her phone that day, I think it is safe to say that probationary drivers should be completely focused on the road and not on cell phone conversations,” Senator Howard Walker, who was the bill’s primary sponsor and represents the district in which Kelsey lived, wrote in a statement about the bill. Senator Darwin Booher, who represents Roscommon County, was also a sponsor of the bill.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Distraction.gov web site, 16% of all distracted driving crashes involve drivers under 20.

Young drivers do not need any distractions while driving. Anyone who got behind the wheel at 16, 17 or even 18 years-old knows that. Adding cell phones and other devices to a young driver’s arsenal of diversions is a recipe for disaster.

Should the law go further? Should hands-on cell phone use be banned for all Michigan drivers? The NHTSA reports nine states prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. A federal law now restricts commercial motor vehicle operators from using handheld cell phones while driving.

Research indicates adults are just as likely to text or talk on a cell phone while driving as young drivers. According to “Adults and Cell Phone Distractions” published by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in 2010, “Adults are just as likely as teens to have texted while driving and are substantially more likely to have talked on the phone while driving…Overall, 44% of adults say they have been passengers of drivers who used the cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.”

Distractions come in many different forms -- from a crying baby to a voicemail to a quick bite to eat on a lunch hour. Whether the state legislature tackles the issue of banning handheld cell phone use while driving or not, distracted driving should be on every driver’s radar. Limiting distractions is key to safer roads. Don’t text or talk on a cell phone while driving. It can be a lifesaving decision.

For resources on distracted driving and to download a pledge not to text or talk on the phone while driving, visit Distraction.gov.

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