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Distracted Driving: A Dangerous Epidemic

Every day, more than 800,000 vehicles in the United States are being driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone. Given these numbers, it is no surprise that distracted driving is a leading cause of automobile accidents.

Distracted driving is defined as any activity that takes the driver’s attention off the roadway. Generally, there are three types of driving distractions:

  • Visual – taking your eyes off the road.
  • Manual – taking your hands off the wheel.
  • Cognitive – taking your mind off operating the vehicle.

Cell phones fit all three categories, which is why talking and texting while driving is so dangerous. In fact, did you know that sending or reading a text message behind the wheel takes your eyes off the roadway for 5 seconds? If you’re driving 55 mph, that is like traveling the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed!

But it isn’t only cell phones that are distracting to drivers. Other activities inside the car can be major attention disrupters, including:

  • Eating and drinking.
  • Talking to passengers.
  • Grooming.
  • Tinkering with the car radio, entertainment or navigation system.
  • Reading (including maps).
  • Watching a video.
  • Listening to loud music.

Michigan Distracted Driving Law

Since 2010, Michigan has prohibited drivers from texting while operating a motor vehicle (MCL 257.602b). This ban includes reading, typing or sending text messages. Persons who violate the law are fined $100 for a first offense and $200 for a second and any subsequent offenses.

Unfortunately, the existing law has not had a significant impact on reducing the number of distracted driving accidents in Michigan.

For this reason, three bills – House Bill 4181, House Bill 4198 and House Bill 4199 – were introduced in the Michigan Legislature earlier this year. The proposals would toughen the ban on texting and other driving distractions. The penalties for distracted driving would also increase.

Here is an overview of the proposals.

House Bill 4181

This bill would amend the Michigan Vehicle Code to prohibit using a cell phone while driving by any person who is under 18 years old. The legislation would also eliminate the exception allowing the use of a voice-operated system that is integrated with the vehicle. (Note: exceptions related to making emergency calls would remain intact.)

House Bill 4198

This bill would amend the Michigan Vehicle Code to prohibit drivers from digitally communicating with a mobile electronic device in their hand or lap while operating a motor vehicle.

“Digitally communicate” means manual interaction on a mobile electronic device limited to writing, sending or reading a text-based communication, mobile gaming, viewing or posting on a social networking site, or viewing, capturing, recording or transmitting a video or photo on a mobile electronic device. It would not include hands-free interaction, voice communication or a navigation function.

“Mobile electronic device” means a mobile telephone (cell phone) and computer. It would not include a watch, a GPS or navigation system affixed to a vehicle or two-way or Citizens Band (CB) radio services.

House Bill 4199

This bill would amend the Michigan Vehicle Code to increase the civil fine for distracted driving from $100 to $250 for a first offense, and from $200 to $500 for a second or subsequent offense.

Distracted Driving Awareness Scholarship

Here at Christensen Law, our Michigan car accident attorneys witness firsthand the tragic effects that distracted driving has on crash victims and their families. We also recognize that distracted driving has become a dangerous epidemic.

In an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving, Christensen Law is in its fourth year of offering a $1,000 scholarship to help college students in need of financial assistance.

The scholarship application consists of writing an essay about how distracted driving has impacted your life. The contest is open to all students at accredited U.S. colleges or universities. All essays must be submitted by July 15, 2019. One essay will be selected as the winner, will be published on the Christensen Law Blog and will be promoted across our social media sites.

If you or someone you know is interested in applying for the scholarship, more information can be found here.