‘Kelsey’s law’ approved by Michigan legislators
LANSING – After 14 months of lobbying and traveling around the state seeking support for her cause, Bonnie Raffaele is celebrating support for a bill named after her daughter that would make Michigan drivers 16 and younger safer behind the wheel.
Called “Kelsey’s Law,” SB 756 was supported 28-10 by the state Senate in March and passed through the House 74-33 on Friday. Pending Gov. Rick Snyder’s approval, the new law would prohibit young drivers from using their cell phones for any reason except emergencies while driving.
However, some lawmakers and law enforcement officers say the law ultimately would be unenforceable.
Raffaele, of Sault Ste. Marie, watched the vote go through online in the early morning hours on Friday.
“I was so happy. Everybody worked so hard,” she said. “I just want to thank everybody who had a role in getting this passed. There have been thousands of people in Michigan (who supported it).”
Raffaele’s daughter, Kelsey, died at the age of 17 in 2010 when she was distracted by talking on her cell phone while driving and tried to pass a car. She pulled out into oncoming traffic and died of her injuries from the crash. Raffaele then launched the KDR Challenge, which stands for Kids Driving Responsibly and also is Kelsey’s initials. She shares Kelsey’s story with teenagers around the state and encourages them to stop texting and driving.
Now, Raffaele has the law on her side.
“I hope if we teach them not to use their phones as they learn to drive that they will carry that over into adulthood,” said Raffaele, who has given her presentation at Crossroads Charter Academy, Pine River Public Schools and Reed City Area Public Schools.
Since 2010, it has been illegal for all Michigan drivers to text while driving. The violation is a civil infraction, punishable with a $100 for the first offense and a $200 fine for all subsequent offenses.
Kelsey’s Law will apply to Level I and Level II drivers, which includes teens driving on a permit through the age of 16. The new law would make it illegal for those drivers to initiate a call, answer a call or talk on the phone except in the case of an emergency while driving. Voice-activated systems integrated into a vehicle are exceptions.
Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, supported Kelsey’s Law, saying he is favor of any measure to increase safety on the roads.
“Statistics show that our young drivers are distracted – also the older drivers,” he said. “Whatever we can try to do to prevent them from being on the phone (while driving) is a good thing.”
While it will be difficult for officers to estimate the age of drivers on their cell phones, Booher said simply having the law on the books would help.
“The laws will be there. ... It’s going to be the chances of pulling them over for something else and catching them with their phone on their ear,” he said. “It’s to send a message. Parents, if they’re responsible and care about the safety of their children, will warn them.”
On the other hand, Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, cited the difficulty in enforcing the law as a reason to vote against the bill.
“There’s no way for an officer to tell if a person is 16, 17 or 21,” he said. “We don’t need a law that can’t be enforced.”
Mecosta County Sheriff Todd Purcell is in favor of Kelsey’s Law, but he agreed it will be difficult to enforce.
“Any way we can lessen the distraction for (young) drivers, the safer we’ll be. Being brand new drivers, I think they have enough responsibility and distraction already,” he said. “The years of experience officers have will assist them in determining the age of the driver.”
Car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for 15 to 19 year olds, which is why Michigan already has driving restrictions set for young drivers. The National Safety Council estimates 1-in-4 crashes involve cell phone use.
Level I drivers, who have just completed their first segment of driver’s education, can only drive with a parent or someone over 21 in the vehicle. Level II drivers, which includes 16-year-olds who have just received their driver’s licenses, cannot drive alone between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. They cannot have more than one passenger under the age of 21 in the vehicle, unless the passengers are family members. By age 17, drivers can receive a Level III license, which has no driving restrictions.