GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — New legislation has been introduced in Lansing to limit distractions while behind the wheel.
In June 2014, James Freybler of Grand Rapids lost his 17-year-old son Jacob in a car crash related to texting and driving.
“He texted four words, ‘I’m not feeling well,’ and in that amount of 2 or 3 seconds, was enough for him to cross the center line and hit an SUV head-on,” Freybler said.
Since Jacob’s death, Freybler has used his own tragedy to educate others. He founded “Stay Alive, Don’t Text and Drive,” a program where he visits schools and driver’s education classes to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.
“The thing with Jacob is, I still have his cell phone — works perfect,” Freybler said. “These things don’t care whether you live or die, they don’t. They’ll keep going and I buried my son.”
Freybler was one of those who spoke on Tuesday as the Michigan House Transportation, Mobility and Infrastructure Committee heard testimony on three bills (House Bills 4250, 4251, and 4252) to expand the state’s distracted driving laws.
In addition to texting, which is currently illegal in Michigan while driving, the bills would make using mobile electronic devices for any purpose while driving illegal as well. There are exceptions for emergencies and using hands-free mode.
“That makes sure that you’re not on social media, you’re not using a streaming service like Zoom or anything like that,” said State Rep. Matt Koleszar, (D-Royal Oak). “This legislation is designed at saving lives.”
Also supporting the legislation is former General Motors executive Steve Kiefer whose son Mitchel died in 2016 after being struck by a distracted driver while heading to Michigan State University.
Kiefer started the Kiefer Foundation in his son’s honor, which is designed to end distracted driving through awareness, policy and technology.
“These laws are now in place in 25 states around this country and in each of those states the crashes are reduced significantly, deaths are reduced and even insurance rates are reduced,” said Steve Kiefer, founder of the Kiefer Foundation.
Kiefer said the bills would also make enforcing distracted driving easier.
“It’s very clear, it’s binary. You’re holding the phone, you’re in violation, it’s primary, you’re pulled over and ticketed,” Kiefer said.
After additional distracted driving legislation previously stalled in Lansing, Freybler said the state can no longer wait.
“We need to act, we don’t need to wait 180 days, we needed this yesterday,” Freybler said.
A first offense would carry a $100 fine or 16 hours of community service. A second offense would be a $250 fine or 24 hours of community service. Kiefer hopes the bills will be passed by Memorial Day, when teen driving deaths have been known to increase.
According to data from the State of Michigan, 5.8% of crashes involved a distracted driver in 2020.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled State Rep. Matt Koleszar’s last name. We regret the error, which has since been corrected.