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Whitmer signs bills to update, strengthen distracted driving laws

Governor Gretchen Whitmer joined state officials and anti-distracted driving leaders on Wednesday to sign three bills, one of them sponsored by a local lawmaker, aimed at reducing distracted driving and saving lives by ensuring that drivers have their full attention on the road with the use of hands-free technology.  

“I’m proud to sign today’s legislation to reduce distracted driving in Michigan. Too many Michiganders have lost loved ones to distracted driving, and everyone should be safe on their way to school, home, or work,” said Governor Whitmer. “We developed our last Strategic Highway Safety Plan in 2019 and already we have seen a reduction in the number of fatalities caused by distracted driving. These bills are another step toward reducing that number even further. Our goal is to see zero traffic deaths by 2050 and I know that by working together we can get it done.” 

House Bill 4250 updates Michigan’s distracted driving laws, which currently includes texting and driving, to also include watching or recording videos and engaging in social media, among other usages. The new law would allow drivers to take advantage of new voice-operated or hands-free technology if they need to use cell phone functions. The bill also allows a court to order drivers to complete a basic driver improvement course if they are found responsible for three or more civil infractions within a three-year period and updates fines for infractions.  

“Dangerous incidents tied to distracted driving have continued to increase and it is clear that our state’s motor vehicle laws are in desperate need of modernization,” said House Bill 4250 sponsor state Representative Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth). “This legislation is designed to make our roads safer for every driver and passenger in Michigan and provide law enforcement with the tools they need to crack down on this dangerous behavior.” 

House Bill 4251 provides accountability for drivers who put themselves and others in danger by making related changes regarding commercial vehicles, driving record points, and driver improvement courses. 

“Too many of us have seen first-hand the harmful consequences and damage caused because people were not fully paying attention to the road while behind the wheel,” said House Bill 4251 sponsor state Representative Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit). “Current Michigan law doesn’t go far enough to protect drivers on the road, and this legislation is changing that.“

House Bill 4252 requires the Michigan State Police (MSP) to submit a progress report on the effectiveness of the new law 3.5 years after it takes effect. After introducing a hands-free law in April, Ohio has seen a nine percent drop in distracted driving in just one month, preventing over 500 crashes.  

“This legislation is about changing the culture for our young drivers and saving lives,” said House Bill 4252 sponsor state Representative Mike Mueller (R-Linden). With progressing technology, the new law will reenforce good driving practices, which will ultimately lead to safer roads for all drivers. Other states that have enacted these policies have seen proven drops in vehicle collision fatalities.” 

Douglas Stockwell, the Business Manager for Operating Engineers 324, which operates a training center in Howell Township, said the bills were key to help ensure the safety of the union’s members.

“The 15,000 members of Operating Engineers 324 are the central to the skilled workforce that carry out the critical work of fixing and repairing roads and bridges of our state,” he said. “This work often takes place just inches from moving traffic, and too often we have seen the tragedies that occur when motorists choose to look at their phones rather than the road in front of them. We need to do everything in our power to make sure road work can be done safely, and this bill to eliminate distracted driving does just that – makes work zones safer and helps ensure that those working and driving on Michigan roads return home safe at the end of the day.”

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