New Law Affects Inexperienced Drivers

Inexperienced drivers across Michigan will be banned from using their cell phones while driving starting in March of this year. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill, also known as “Kelsey’s Law” last Tuesday.

The law is named after Kelsey Raffaele of Sault Ste. Marie, who was only 17 when she was using her cell phone while driving one day and was killed in an automobile crash in 2010. Kelsey’s mother, Bonnie Raffaele, pushed for the law to come into effect in her memory.

In a January 9 article in the Detroit Free Press, Raffaele said, “I know that Kelsey is up in heaven just clapping and screaming for joy over this because of the lives that can be saved.”

Senate Bill 756, sponsored by state Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, only applies to drivers with a Level 1 license, or a permit, who can’t drive unaccompanied, and those with a Level 2 license, who has restrictions on when they can drive and how many passengers they can carry. Most young drivers have a Level 1 or 2 license.

The only exceptions to this act is if individuals are talking on a cell phone because they are reporting  a traffic hazard, medical emergency, or serious road hazard; a situation in which the person believes his or her safety is in jeopardy; or a crime against another person that has occurred or seems likely to occur. Also, if the use of voice operated systems are integrated in their vehicle (“hands-free” sync capabilities), young drivers may use their phone.

“This law means a lot to me, both as governor and as a parent of a young person who is learning to drive,” Snyder said in an article on his website. “I appreciate the efforts of Kelsey’s mother, Bonnie, and family who have worked tirelessly to get the message out about the dangers of distracted driving. We should be doing everything we can to make sure beginning drivers are focused on learning how to drive. I believe this law will help them gain that experience while reinforcing their responsibilities behind the wheel.”

Seaholm student Stephen Grobbel is a sophomore and has his Level 1 license. He agrees with the law and believes it will be beneficial to teens in Michigan.

“It’s reasonable because it wouldn’t make sense to have kids learning how to drive be distracted with their phones,” Grobbel said.

Junior Hannah King, who has her Level 2 license, feels similarly.

“I understand a ban from texting, and I think that should be a universal law, not just for teens. But using hands free calling is totally safe, and I use it all the time,” she said. “So I think that would be dumb to have banned.”

In light of the new law, police officers in the area will be looking for younger teens talking on their phone, according to Detective Jerry Hall from the Birmingham Police Department. The penalty for getting caught using a cell phone will be a possible $100 fine and a suspension or revocation of license.

“For the new young driver there are so many distractions out there and keeping your eye on the road is the main thing. The younger the driver, the more accidents they get into,” Hall said. “The best thing for them to do is obviously just to keep paying attention to what they are doing and keep driving. Whether it’s turning their phone off when they’re driving or, depending on what kind of car they have, they may have something where they can talk and drive at the same time through the speakers on their car, which is safer.”

Hall, like Snyder, is also a parent of a newer driver and is even more conscious of this new law.

“I have a 19 year old daughter that has a Ford Fiesta that has the In-Sync on there so she doesn’t have to pick her phone up to do any talking.  She can just talk through the radio system.”

Even though this law, a ban of using a cell phone entirely, is only enacted on beginning drivers, all drivers in the state of Michigan are banned from texting and operating a motor vehicle at the same time. Michigan adopted the statewide ban on texting-while-driving in 2010.

“Picking up a phone is literally more distracting than somebody who is drunk driving,” said Hall. “There are more accidents caused by somebody using their cell phone than drunk driving accidents in the United States.”

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