LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The state Senate on Thursday passed a new, tougher version of legislation that would make it illegal to send text messages from cell phones while driving in Michigan.
The main bill in the package passed the Republican-led chamber by a 28-10 vote, with only Republicans in opposition. It now advances to the Democrat-led House, which isn’t expected to take up the new measure until returning from a scheduled two-week break that ends in mid-April.
The new Senate version would make texting while driving a primary offense starting July 1, meaning police could pull over and cite motorists just for texting. Fines would be $100 for a first offense and $200 for each offense after that.
Previous versions of the bill had made texting a secondary offense. That meant police would need some other reason to stop a vehicle.
Police have told lawmakers that making the violation a secondary offense would hinder their ability to cite motorists in time to prevent accidents. But some lawmakers doubt a tougher policy making texting a primary offense will pass the Legislature.
The texting ban has picked up momentum in Michigan recently because of publicity surrounding accidents caused by distracted driving. Police say a teenage driver killed in a January traffic accident in Ottawa County was exchanging text messages with his girlfriend, got distracted and crashed.
"People are becoming more aware about this issue," said Rep. Lee Gonzales, a Democrat from Flint and a supporter of a texting ban. "There’s a lot of attention placed on it."
The federal government has sought to crack down on distracted driving, urging states to adopt stringent laws against sending text messages from behind the wheel. More than half the states already have adopted measures that ban at least some drivers from texting. Several more are in the process of passing new laws addressing it.
Texting while driving is classified as a primary offense in at least 15 states.
According to the U.S. Transportation Department’s distraction.gov Web site, using a cell phone has the same affect on a driver’s reaction time as a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent.
Obviously, texting while driving is a problem and needs to be curbed. But I think making it a primary violation instead of a secondary violation is bad policy for two reasons:
- 1) Unless a person is dumb enough to hold his phone high enough so that the police can see that he is texting, police are going to be pulling over people for the act of peeking down, which could be for any number of reasons. Let’s face it, when you get a ticket, the real burden of proof won’t be on the officer to prove you were texting, but rather on you to prove you weren’t. At least with speeding tickets, you had to actually, you know, speed. It will essentially become another way for municipalities to raise money, and without any real proof of a violation.
- 2) If police can pull people over for peeking down, I can see TWD becoming the new “broken taillight” for pretextual traffic stops, sometimes referred to as “driving while black.”
Feel free to disagree with me in the comments.