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MichAuto Town Hall: The Push to End Distracted Driving in Michigan

August 31, 2021
On Aug. 25, MichAuto hosted Town Hall: The Push to End Distracted Driving in Michigan. Participants were called to action by Steven Kiefer, chairman of the Kiefer Foundation, Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham), and Jennifer Smith, chief executive officer and co-founder of StopDistractions.org to push the passage of hands-free legislation – House Bills 4277, 4278, and 4279 to protect Michigan drivers. The conversation was moderated by Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MichAuto.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nine people are killed by distracted driving accidents in the United States every day, and taking your eyes off the road for only two seconds doubles the chance for a collision. Kiefer and Smith know firsthand the meaning behind this statistic, as both candidly shared stories about the loss of family members at the hands of distracted drivers.

Michigan has a ban on texting and driving, but technology has evolved creating a need for drivers to be given clarity about what constitutes distracted driving while using a handheld mobile device, stated Rep. Mari Manoogian. Scrolling social media and looking up driving directions may not be “texting,” but they do contribute to an increase in distracted driving, resulting in more accidents and more deaths on roadways. It is important, Manoogian emphasizes, to make sure that there is not a device in your hand while operating a motor vehicle. Put both hands on the wheel. Focus on driving.

This simple, impactful message is behind The Kiefer Foundation’s latest campaign: Just Drive. Says Kiefer, this is a high visibility campaign with support from influencers like General Motors Co.’s Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra and NFL Quarterback Tom Brady. There have been many campaigns to stop distracted driving, but this new campaign hits home by calling out the many ways distractions can occur while driving. “Put down the food, the phones, the makeup, and just focus on driving.”

Beyond legislation to regulate hands-free driving, there also needs to be a shift in behavior and culture to end distracted driving. Smith noted that in the last two years, nine additional states have passed hands-free legislation. Those states are seeing reductions in crashes, lowered insurance costs, and lives being saved. Public support is driving these changes and encouraging a shift in culture, with each state having 80-90% public support of the legislation.

Kiefer agreed, stating that surveys indicate 88% of residents in Michigan support the legislation and are really demanding it.

“We don’t really change behavior until it becomes very personal. I thought I was a very safe distracted driver. It’s going to happen to you. You have the ability to bring an end to this now before it happens to you. Don’t let it be the reason you get involved,” said Kiefer.

The phone becomes more and more entwined in our lives every day, and there is a huge difference between using it in your home or being in the car.

Get Involved: Three things you can do now to save lives and eliminate distracted driving.

  1. Be personally accountable. Put the phone down. Challenge yourself to take a drive without touching your phone and using the modern technology available today to be hands-free. Then make sure your loves ones are doing the same.
  2. Call and email your legislators to advocate for the passage of these bills. Legislators need to hear from constituents directly. We must work together to get this legislation across the finish line.
  3. In addition to putting down your phone in the car, speak up when others do it. There needs to be a cultural shift in thinking where distracted driving is not socially acceptable because of the impact it has on others’ lives.

Before you get in the car, reflect on Steven Kiefer’s closing remarks, and get in the mindset to #justdrive.

“Until it happens to you, you don’t really appreciate the gravity of this. And I think through very personal stories and being a bit vulnerable here, I think that helps people understand just how tragic this can be,” said Kiefer.

“Usually when I’m one-on-one with someone, I often ask them about their loved ones. And I would ask them to tell me about your most important loved one. Maybe it’s a child, maybe it’s a spouse, maybe a best friend. And I often ask them to tell me about the last time you saw them and what they were wearing and what did you talk about. At the end of if it did you hug them and say I love you and goodbye? And that gets people emotional because you start thinking about it and then I will always follow that with now what if that’s the last time you’ll see them?

Because that is what many of us are living with. And you know, when you put it that way, and if all of you could just think about what you would do to prevent that from happening – what would you do to make that last interaction you had with your loved one not be the last interaction with your loved one. And that’s the real point here. You know we’ve got an opportunity to do some things that will save lives.”