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It's Official: Texting While Driving Is a Primary Offense in Michigan

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted drivers caused accidents that injured approximately 500,000 people and killed close to 6,000 people in 2008. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reported that texting while driving poses an increased danger, because the driver's attention is diverted away from the road for almost 5 seconds and the likelihood of causing an accident is more than 23 times over that of an attentive driver.

Efforts to combat distracted driving, including texting while driving, have become the fuel for various political and legislative initiatives around the nation since late last year.

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey recently joined forces with the U.S. Department of Transportation, led by Secretary Ray LaHood, and others in the campaign against distracted driving. She declared April 30th, 2010, the first national "No Phone Zone Day" and invited Governor Jennifer Granholm to sign a trio of bills to prohibit the act of texting while driving in Michigan during the taping of the show.

After Governor Granholm signed the bills into law on April 30th, Michigan became the 24th state to impose a texting while driving ban, and the 19th state to make the act a primary offense. This allows law enforcement officials to pull drivers over and assess fines if they catch people texting or typing on their cell phones while driving, even if no other traffic laws were broken.

The main bill to ban texting while driving restricts drivers from "reading, manually typing, or sending text messages while operating a moving motor vehicle on a street or highway" in Michigan. Two related bills address the extent of penalties for violating this law. While one bill indicates that drivers caught texting face fine amounts of $100 for a first offense and $200 for each incident afterward, the other indicates that no traffic violation points will be entered on a person's driver record if he or she is fined for texting while driving.

Michigan's texting ban becomes effective on July 1st of this year, but it does include a few exceptions.

Drivers may still legally dial and talk on their cell phones and continue to operate any global positioning or navigational devices mounted to their dashboards under Michigan's new law. In addition, texting is permitted when the car is stopped or stalled on the road, to report a crime or other emergency while driving, and when acting in an official role as law enforcement or emergency personnel.

Some Michigan lawmakers, concerned with how officers might enforce the texting ban, cited the fact that labeling texting while driving a primary offense could give police officers another excuse to stop drivers with certain racial ethnicities. Other legislative officials, however, were happy to give Michigan State Police another safety tool to use in the fight against distracted driving on the state's city roads and highways.

For Michigan Governor Granholm, however, this law is the first step in requiring hands-free technology and banning the use of all handheld cellular devices when driving.

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