By ZARIA PHILLIPS
Capital News Service
LANSING — Democratic Rep. Mari Manoogian’s bill to ban cellphone use while driving is eagerly favored by Michigan police officials.
“Every motorist is aware of distracted driving, especially with cellphones,” said Ron Wiles, chair of the traffic committee for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. “But people have a difficult time disengaging with their devices.
“Cellphones affect all the senses – hearing, seeing, touching. If you’re using your phone, you’re not driving,” said Wiles, the police chief in Grand Blanc Township.
Michigan joins 46 other states in banning texting while driving for all ages, but it is one of 27 states that does not prohibit all uses of hand-held devices while driving, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Manoogian, of Birmingham, introduced the bill on Feb. 13. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer offered support for the proposal in her State of the State address, where she introduced the family of Mitchel Kiefer, a Michigan State University student killed on I-96 by a driver using a cellphone.
“Rep. Manoogian felt it was time to modernize,” said Vicky Qiao, Manoogian’s constituent services aide. “Current bills don’t account for advancing technologies in vehicles that still require touch, and fines for texting and driving aren’t severe enough. I think some of our supporters recognize that.”
Former Republican Rep. Martin Howrylak, of Troy, introduced a similar bill to ban the use of cellphones on roads without hands-free functions in 2017.
“It didn’t pass because there were too many legislators distracted driving themselves,” Howrylak said. “But now because this new introduction of the bill has Gov. Whitmer’s support and she’s brought out this family that’s been affected by someone driving and using a cellphone, that certainly increases its chance of being passed.”
The state is just beginning to break down the role cellphones play in traffic accidents, said.
Jon Ross, a communications representative at the Office of Highway Safety Planning. Only since 2016 have police reports been detailed enough to indicate what specific distractions are leading to accidents.
Some examples of distracted driving options detailed in police reports include texting, typing, dialing, using a hands-free device, talking on a hand-held device, other activity using electronic devices, the passenger and distractions outside the vehicle.
“We have very recent information about the frequency of cellphone usage for these past few years, because police crash reports have gotten so much more detailed,” Ross said.
In 2017, there were about 3,000 crashes involving a motor vehicle driver, pedestrian or bicyclist using a cellphone, according to the State Police’s traffic safety program statistics. That’s up from 2016, when 1,800 crashes related to cellphones were reported.
The 2018 report will be released in April.
“Distracted driving describes behaviors that take your attention from the road, so cellphones are a big concern,” Wiles said. “But it’s difficult to prove that the accidents are directly related to cell phone use.”
Tony Brown, the new chief of police in St. Ignace, said Manoogian’s bill is a great idea. “I think it would benefit all areas of the state, not just St. Ignace.”
The bill was referred to the House Transportation Committee for consideration.