BY CHRIS CHRISTOFF
FREE PRESS LANSING BUREAU CHIEF
Ban on texting while driving to start July 1
LANSING — The state House made it official Wednesday: Michigan will become the 19th state where police can stop drivers for text messaging behind the wheel.
And Gov. Jennifer Granholm is to put her signature on the new law on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on Friday, as part of Winfrey’s ongoing campaign to stop cell phone use by drivers.
Granholm is scheduled to appear on the show via satellite from the Renaissance Center, along with Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans and Deputy Mayor Saul Green.
A 9:30 a.m. open-to-the-public rally against distracted driving also is planned at the RenCen. It’s one of five rallies to be broadcast on the Oprah show. Others will be in Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington.
The new Michigan law is a victory for proponents who cite studies that show the hazards of cell phone use while driving. Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint, lead sponsor of the ban, said it will improve public safety.
First-time violators could be ticketed and slapped with a $100 civil fine. Subsequent violations would net a $200 fine. No points would go on driving records.
Gonzales and other lawmakers pushed unsuccessfully for a broader ban on cell phone use while driving. Five states allow police to ticket texting drivers only if they are stopped for other infractions.
Final approval was delayed by House Democrats, who sought to divert revenue from texting tickets to the state general fund, rather than a fund for libraries. House members from Detroit voiced concern that the new law would be used as a racial profiling tool by police against African-American drivers.
The Senate rejected the House changes, and the full House overwhelmingly agreed to the Senate version Wednesday.
Nationally, nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 from traffic accidents attributed to distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In Michigan in 2008-09, 16 people were killed and 783 injured in wrecks in which drivers were using cell phones, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.