House OKs bill banning cell phone use for drivers under 18

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House voted 87-21 Wednesday to prohibit drivers under the age of 18 from using their phone to talk or text while driving.

A prohibition on using cell phones currently applies to teenagers with learner’s permits while a texting and driving prohibition applies to drivers of all ages.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who lobbied for distracted driving legislation during her State of the State address, urged the state Senate to consider the legislation as soon as possible.

Safety regulators, insurers and technologists have turned to monitoring drivers for distractions.

“We don’t just need better roads, we need safer roads,” Whitmer said in a Wednesday statement. “This bill will help us put an end to distracted driving, protect our kids, and ensure the safety of Michigan drivers. It’s my hope that the Michigan Senate will do the right thing and pass this bill so we can protect Michiganders everywhere.”

Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham

The bill passed Wednesday was the first for the Rep. Mari Manoogian, a Birmingham Democrat who said she'd eventually like to see it expanded to all drivers.

“We know that it's not a Democrat or Republican issue,” Manoogian said. “Keeping kids safe while they’re driving is just a people issue and something I think many folks can get behind.”

The legislation would make exceptions for phone use in emergency calls to 911, including in the case of a traffic crash, road hazard, a threat to personal safety or medical emergency.

“If they need to call their parent or need to call someone desperately, they can pull their vehicle over and make that call,” Manoogian said. 

Rep. Mike Mueller, a former road patrol deputy in Washtenaw and Livingston counties, was among the 21 lawmakers who opposed the bill. A hands-free law applying to all drivers would be easier to enforce, he said.

Discerning whether a driver is between the ages of 16 and 18 and governed by the law is a hard call when making a traffic stop, said Mueller, a Linden Republican. Should an officer guess the wrong age, it could cause problems with other evidence uncovered during the stop, he said.

“Police officers are going to be pulling people over based on what they think the age of somebody is between 16 and 18,” Mueller said. “I don’t think that’s very enforceable.”

Two other bills in the distracted driving package — one that would expand texting and driving laws to include other forms of digital communications and another that would increase fines for violating the law — remain in House committee.

The legislation was in part championed by General Motors Co. executive Steve Kiefer, whose son was killed by a distracted driver in 2016.

Mitchel Kiefer, 18, of Northville, was driving on I-96 in Ingham County back to college when he was hit by a vehicle driven by woman distracted by her phone.