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Bills that would penalize phone use while driving clear Michigan House

man using a phone while driving a car
Alexandre Boucher

Drivers would face penalties for driving while using handheld phones or other electronic devices under bills that cleared the state House Tuesday.

“I think this creates a culture where people think twice about distracted driving,” state Representative Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth), one of the bill sponsors, said. “Other states have done this. Other states have seen positive results in terms of lessening of fatalities on the road, less distracted driving-related accidents.”

But it was a tough sell for many other lawmakers from both parties.

The same legislation stalled last week over a variety of concerns including that such laws could be used to unfairly target minority and younger drivers and also that fines and license suspensions would be an undue hardship on people who need to drive to get to work or school.

The legislation would allow people to use hands-free technology while driving. But drivers caught holding a phone or a tablet could be required to take a safety course after three offenses. That’s less onerous than the initial proposed penalty of a suspended license, which was too much for many lawmakers.

Koleszar said sending drivers back to school was the compromise.

“They were concerned about the punitive measure of suspension of license,” he said following the House votes. “When we changed that to education that brought a lot of the members back on board. That was the big sticking point issue.”

The bills passed on votes of 68-39, so there were still some holdouts.

Representative Jaime Greene (R-Richmond) was one of the Republicans who remained a “no” vote.

“I believe that this is piece of legislation was government overreach,” she told Michigan Public Radio. “We already have in law distracted driving. It is already illegal to text. Also, careless and reckless driving already exists in the law so we why would we be adding more?”

The bills now go to the state Senate.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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