Sen. Ruth Johnson joins victim families, others to fight distracted driving

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Ruth Johnson and Oakland County Sheriff Michael J. Bouchard on Friday joined forces with Transportation Improvement Association CEO Jim Santilli and victims’ families to announce new Senate legislation designed to crack down on distracted driving in Michigan.

“Every life lost to distracted driving is a tragedy because it is 100 percent preventable,” said Johnson, R-Holly. “I’ve introduced Senate Bill 288 so that Michigan will join 18 other states that have already passed ‘hands-free’ driving laws to better ensure that no more Michigan families have to endure the heartbreak of losing a loved one due to distracted driving.”

Johnson’s bill would expand the state’s current texting-while-driving ban to all portable electronic devices unless being used by the driver in a “hands-free” manner.

“This is a growing problem,” said Bouchard. “We’ve seen a large increase in distracted driving crashes over the past decade with the proliferation of smart phones and other electronic devices.  New technology can improve our lives, but motorists need to remember that their primary focus needs to be on driving their vehicle safely when they are on the road.”

According to the Michigan State Police, there were in 20,115 crashes in Michigan involving distracted driving in 2017 including 72 fatalities — the highest numbers ever recorded. The Transportation Improvement Association recorded 77 deaths and 7,213 injuries caused by distracted driving crashes in Michigan last year.

Michigan law currently prohibits texting and driving, but Johnson says it is often difficult for law enforcement to identify a distracted driver who is texting, rather than performing another function on their phone.

“Activities such as the use of social media, surfing the internet, or taking pictures or video while driving are equally distracting and dangerous,” Johnson said.

SB 288 would prohibit a driver from holding or using a portable electronic device on a highway or street in Michigan. Drivers could still use their phone hands-free with Bluetooth or a windshield or dash mount using voice-activated features, such as Siri, or a single tap or swipe to answer a call.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which strongly supports hands-free laws, distracted driving was responsible for 3,166 deaths in the U.S. in 2017. Studies have shown that drivers who use a handheld device are four times more likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injury.

“When operating a motor vehicle, we all have a personal responsibility to protect our life and the lives of the innocent people traveling around us at all times,” said Santilli. “No text message, social media update, internet search, or any other distraction is worth putting a life in jeopardy.”

Santilli helped to re-energize the movement for a hands-free law in Michigan after attending the funeral of Ally Zimmerman, a 16-year-old high school student who was hit by a distracted driver in December 2010. She later died from her injuries.

Ally’s mother, Laurel Zimmerman, and Jim and Diane Freybler, who lost their son Jacob to texting and driving, both attended the press conference with Johnson and Bouchard in support of the legislation.

“My daughter, Ally, lost her life in 2011 due to a distracted driver,” said Zimmerman. “I commend Senator Johnson for introducing a hands-free bill. Too many families have lost a loved one due to distracted driving. Ally was passionate about helping others and would want this bill passed.”

Johnson’s bill would make distracted driving eligible for primary enforcement by police. Repeat violators could have one point assessed on their driver’s license for a second violation and two points for each subsequent violation, in addition to a ticket.

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Editor’s note: The above photograph is available by clicking on the image or at https://www.SenatorRuthJohnson.com/photos/.

Photo caption: Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, and Oakland County Sheriff Michael J. Bouchard announce new Senate legislation designed to crack down on distracted driving in Michigan. Senate Bill 288 would expand the state’s current texting-while-driving ban to all portable electronic devices unless being used by the driver in a “hands-free” manner. Johnson and Bouchard were joined by Transportation Improvement Association CEO Jim Santilli and Laurel Zimmerman and Jim and Diane Freybler. Zimmerman lost her daughter Ally and the Freyblers lost their son Jacob as the result of distracted driving accidents.