Dec. 23 2009 12:00 AM

The ’big deal’ about texting while driving

In response to Kyle Melinn’s Dec. 16 opinion column, "Crashing into texting and driving hysteria," I would like to share with you what the "big deal" about texting while driving really is.

Earlier this month the House of Representatives passed my bill, House Bill 4394, which will ban texting while driving in Michigan. Since that time, the issue of whether to regulate this in Michigan has been the talk among many folks. I’ve heard from countless people that it’s about time we do something about this. On the other hand, I’ve heard from others that we shouldn’t have to create laws to enforce common sense. Apparently we do.

We’ve all seen those drivers who are too distracted by other things going on around them. They drift from lane to lane or speed up and then slam on their brakes. You probably can recall a similar incident now. In fact, each and every one of us has been guilty of distracted driving at some point since we first got behind the wheel.

And now, here we are on the verge of 2010 and the reality is that using cell phones while driving has become an accepted part of our culture, despite the fact that countless lives are put at risk every day because of those who are simply too "busy" to pull over to text.

You might even be thinking to yourself that sending a text message while barreling down the expressway is "just the way it is nowadays." But I believe that just because it’s common practice doesn’t mean it’s right.

The U.S. Department of Transportation held a distracted driving summit at the end of September in Washington, and the reported findings are staggering. According to the department, nearly 6,000 drivers are killed each year due to distractions while driving — equal to about 150 fatal crashes in Michigan alone.

Consider if just one of those 150 people killed last year was your mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, any other family member or someone close to you — they were to someone, maybe even someone you share the road with every day.

Texting while driving is a clear and present danger to others. Making an excuse for it won’t save a life, but banning drivers from texting behind the wheel will.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia already have some sort of ban on texting while driving, and Michigan must do the same.

Under my plan, drivers who are caught text messaging while driving will receive a fine, but no points will be added to their driving record. Text messaging while driving will be considered a secondary offense, meaning drivers will be cited only if they are stopped by police for another offense.

Even our nation’s largest cell phone companies including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon support a texting while driving ban. These are billion-dollar companies that made big bucks off of the nearly 1 trillion text messages we sent last year, according to the Wireless Association. Yet they are supporting legislation that puts people above profits. It’s about time that we in Michigan put people and safety above convenience and modern mores.

We can’t address all driving distractions in the Legislature; you will probably always be able to eat that cheeseburger behind the wheel. However, we can work to promote safe driving. We made seat belts mandatory and that has saved lives. We made booster seats for children mandatory, and that too has saved lives.

Making it mandatory to put your cell phone down and keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road will save lives too. It’s time to stop driving while intexticated.

State Rep. Lee Gonzales D-Flint Township

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