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Whitmer, advocates seek hand-held phones ban while driving

LANSING (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and safety advocates want to combat distracted driving by restricting the use of cellphones, though pending legislation does not go as far as what she proposed nearly a year ago.

The bill would prohibit motorists under 18 from using a phone while operating a vehicle, except in emergencies. Adults, however, would be exempt from the ban that already applies to drivers with a learner’s or intermediate permit — typically 15- and 16-year-olds.

Twenty-one states bar hand-held phone use by all motorists, including five that have passed laws since Whitmer called for a universal hands-free law in her first State of the State speech 11 months ago.

“It is time for us to join that group,” she said this past week in Detroit, where she was joined by activists including the parents of teens who were killed in crashes caused by distracted driving. “We must work together to get this done.”

While the Democratic governor supports limiting hand-held phone use by all drivers, the Republican-led Legislature appears much less open to including adults. The House last month passed a stripped-down measure that would essentially expand the prohibition to 17-year-olds. The bill, which would also eliminate an exception that lets those with graduated level 1 and 2 licenses use a voice-activated phone system in the car, was referred to a Senate committee.

“That’s a step in the right direction,” the sponsor, Democratic Rep. Mari Manoogian of Birmingham, said of the measure advancing. “But we absolutely do need to expand this legislation to include everyone. It will make it easier for law enforcement to enforce this law. It will make our drivers safer regardless of age.”

Michigan had about 19,000 crashes involving distracted driving in 2018, which resulted in 77 fatalities. The year before, there were roughly 20,000 such crashes and 72 fatalities.

Among those backing the legislation is Bonnie Raffaele of Sault Ste. Marie, whose 17-year-old daughter Kelsey was driving home from a friend’s house and chatting on her cellphone when she crashed, ending her life at age 17 in 2010. The law that applies to motorists with level 1 and level 2 licenses is named for Kelsey.

Raffaele said she speaks about distracted driving at schools and driver education courses, and ìthe kids are getting it.” Teens have told her about taking the phone away from a parent who uses it while driving.

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