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Commentary: Hands-Free Legislation Still Needed to Save Lives

Crain’s Detroit Business
Aug. 1, 2021
Glenn Stevens Jr., MICHauto

It’s been nearly five years since Paula Kiefer experienced every mother’s worst nightmare. She arrived home to a police officer waiting for her in her driveway to give her the news that a distracted driver had just taken the life of her son — 18-year-old Mitchel Kiefer — the namesake and inspiration of the Kiefer Foundation and its work to end distracted driving.

Sadly, Mitchel’s story and the devastating loss experienced by his family remains far too familiar. In 2019, 3,142 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Eight times a day, a police officer in our country must have a conversation just like the one with Paula. Now is the time for legislative solutions that save lives.

We urge our partners in the Michigan Legislature to support and pass House Bills 4277, 4278, and 4279, prohibiting drivers from using a mobile electronic device unless they are using it in a “hands-free” mode such as Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, or Android Auto.

While more people today recognize the dangers of using mobile devices while driving, too many still use them while operating their vehicles. This often occurs at high speeds on the freeway where drivers don’t appreciate what a difference even a few seconds can make. Imagine this: at 55 mph, taking your eyes off the road for only five seconds is essentially driving an entire football field with your eyes closed! Many people drive much faster than that to and from work each day.

Some people have asked why we need a new law when Michigan already has a ban on texting while driving. The answer is simple: that law was passed in a different era, before phones had internet. Today, it is very difficult for an officer to determine when drivers are texting (which is illegal) and when they are on email, Facebook or shopping on Amazon (which is not).

Due to the urgency of this issue, 24 states — Republican and Democrat — have adopted more comprehensive hands-free laws. Recent studies consistently show that these laws are dramatically reducing the rate of crashes and fatalities as a result of distractions caused by mobile devices.

MICHauto has heard people say that innovation can solve a problem that technology created. They contend that innovation in the form of autonomous and self-driving vehicles is right around the corner. As the voice of our state’s signature industry, MICHauto advocates for the bright future of autonomy and mobility. However, while we share the excitement about the potentially revolutionary impact autonomous vehicles will have on the world, full implementation of the technology is likely decades off. In the meantime, more Michigan motorists, passengers, and pedestrians will die from entirely preventable accidents until this legislation passes.

This September will mark five years since a distracted driver killed Mitchel. Together, we can honor Mitchel and those like him and ensure this senseless, preventable, and unimaginable tragedy doesn’t happen again.

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