Proposed state legislation (HB 4277, HB 4278, and HB 4279) would make it largely illegal to use a handheld phone while driving. Proponents of this legislation say this is, “a great step forward to stop distracted driving.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA):
The effectiveness of laws banning cell phone use has beenCountermeasures That Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Safety Offices, 10th Edition, 2020
examined in several research studies. The results across types of phone use are inconsistent. Specifically, research examining prohibitions on hands-free phone use and texting have yielded mixed results in terms of reductions in phone use while driving and reduced crashes. There is some evidence that banning handheld cell phone use leads to long-term reductions in this behavior; however, many State and Local laws were only recently passed and effectiveness is still being examined. At this time, there is insufficient consensus across research findings to determine that this countermeasure is effective.
NHTSA adds that “there is less disagreement about the dangers posed by texting while driving”, which Michigan law currently prohibits.
Also, the National Transportation Safety Board states, “Hands-free is not risk free. Using a device hands-free does not reduce driver distraction.”
Racial Disparities in Enforcement
Like other organizations involved in transportation equity, we don’t support increasing law enforcement’s role in traffic safety. The proposed cell phone law makes handheld cell phone use a primary offense. In other words, motorists can get pulled over solely for this violation.
When Massachusetts implemented a similar law similar, they found that non-white drivers were more likely to be ticketed and fined. Dr. Carsten Andresen, a professor of criminal justice at St. Edward’s University in Austin, found that white people were more likley to just get a warning. We would expect a similar outcome under the proposed Michigan law.
A True Step Forward
All distracted driving can be addressed through effective driver monitoring, systems which a growing number of new vehicles currently have.
In fact, Consumer Reports now awards safety points for vehicle models with these systems.
We’re not saying how many seconds you have to look at the road, and if you’re allowed to look at the mirrors. We are just calling for the bare bones. You’ve got to make sure that the driver is awake and generally looking forward, toward the roadway.Kelly Funkhouser, Vehicle Technology Manager at Consumer Reports (Source)
Distracted driving is a growing issue due to vehicle technology. This includes “bloated, distracting, and unregulated” infotainment systems as well as driver assistance features. “Today’s infotainment systems can be as distracting—if not more so—than personal electronic devices,” says NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy.
NHTSA could regulate infotainment system design whereas they currently only offer design guidance. One study found this guidance is largely ignored.
How do the companies behind all those distracting screens and apps — the automakers and smartphone manufacturers — view their responsibility for the problem and their role in solving it?
When companies do talk about distracted driving, they tend to frame it as a problem with cellphones. Their solution: Integrate the same functionality and more into dashboard interfaces and voice-recognition systems.‘We are killing people’: How technology has made your car ‘a candy store of distraction’, LA Times, July 2022
Besides distracting vehicle interiors, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are also a concern.
A report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says, “as drivers develop more experience and comfort using advanced driver assistance systems, they are also more likely to drive distracted while using the systems.” How much more? Nearly twice as often.
So, how do we get more vehicles with driver monitoring systems? One way is for NHTSA to rate vehicle safety based on these monitoring systems through their New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). NCAP is currently updating their rating process, and like many others, we submitted comments supporting this change.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also instructs NHTSA to “perform research and report to Congress on the potential for technology interventions to reduce driver distraction, driver disengagement, automation complacency, and foreseeable misuse of ADAS by drivers,” according to the Center for Automotive Research.
Effective driver monitoring systems and increased NHTSA oversight would be great steps forward. Both are more effective, require less law enforcement, and better align with the Safe Systems Approach.
Just adding more laws and more education won’t make our roads safer for bicycling and walking.
Late last year we were interviewed for an article on the dramatic rise in pedestrian and bicyclists crashes in Michigan. That article was published (Michigan pedestrian deaths rise, safety laws questioned) but most of our input didn’t get included.
Our views on safety don’t align well with the status quo. As the safety numbers for bicyclists and pedestrians get worst, it’s clear that the current approach pursued by others hasn’t worked. That’s reflected in our complete answers.
Do you think the state pedestrian safety laws (i.e. yielding to peds in crosswalks) are sufficient? Why or why not?
There are very few state pedestrian laws. Unlike other states, the Michigan State Police (MSP) has put most of the pedestrian law language in a PDF document and asks the nearly 2,000 local government entities to adopt them by reference. That law language is based on the Uniform Vehicle Code model laws that all states use. However, MSP has modified the language in at least a couple instances to reduce protections for pedestrians and bicyclists. Is it sufficient? That may not be the right question when it’s unclear that law enforcement across Michigan have been properly trained on these laws. When reading the crash reports that law enforcement gives to the media, it seems there’s not a comprehensive understanding of the current pedestrian laws.
What you do think about the cities who have ordinances with stronger pedestrian laws, i.e. Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, etc? Should more cities follow suit? Should the legislature follow suit? What should the legislature do?
It seems the one benefit (perhaps the biggest) of stronger local pedestrian laws is that law enforcement is more likely to be aware of them.
The Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) provides grants to select cities during Pedestrian Safety Month for pedestrian safety enforcement efforts where motorists and pedestrians are given warnings and citations. Is this a step in the right direction? Should this be expanded on? How could it be expanded?
We do not support OHSP pedestrian or bicyclist enforcement efforts. Such enforcement is a largely temporary and often ineffective method for improving road safety. In fact, nationwide organizations such as the Vision Zero Network are explicitly removing enforcement as a strategy for improving safety. We are members of the Transportation Equity Caucus that is working to prevent federal safety funding from paying for enforcement efforts such as this.
Like many others (including the FHWA and NTSB), we believe Safe Systems is the best approach for improving road safety for everyone. Safe Systems has a heavy focus on improving roads so that motorists drive safely without the need for enforcement.
Is Michigan more motorist friendly than pedestrian friendly? If so, how can we make changes? What changes are already happening?
Most Michigan roads are designed to be motorist friendly — and the conditions are getting worse. There were 175 pedestrian deaths in Michigan last year, a 17% increase. In 2010, 14% of all road fatalities in Michigan were pedestrians. That’s now over 16%. Despite this, MDOT only focuses 1.4% of its federal Highway Safety Improvement Planning dollars on pedestrians. (It focuses zero on bicyclists.) That will change with the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure bill which will force MDOT to spend a minimum of 15% on improving bicyclist and pedestrian safety.
And if I haven’t asked the right question yet, please feel free to tell me whatever is topmost on your head and/or agenda regarding pedestrian safety in Michigan.
It seems two biggest factors affecting pedestrian safety are:
- Road design that prioritizes motorist speed over pedestrian safety (and encourages speeding.)
- Vehicle designs that have larger, higher, more blunt front ends; are heavier and faster; and encourage driver distraction.
I would also suggest looking over the 2020 OSHP Annual Evaluation Report, if you haven’t already done so. They substantially increased pedestrian and bicyclist fatality goals for 2019. This shows how ineffective they see themselves in reducing fatalities and their unwillingness to commit to Towards Zero Deaths.
You might also consider the letter FHWA sent to the MDOT director in April of 2020 about their safety performance. It’s on page 51 of MDOT’s Highway Safety Improvement Plan.
Based on the review of your safety performance targets and data, it appears that Michigan has not met or made significant progress towards achieving its safety performance targets. The below table provides a summary of the target achievement determinationFederal Highway Administration letter to MDOT Director, 2020
The City of Hamtramck had some outdated bicycle ordinances that were restrictive for both youth and adults.
- Youth under 12 years old were only allowed to ride their bikes on sidewalks. That meant they wouldn’t be able to legally ride on the new Joe Louis Greenway that is planned for the Hamtramck alleys west of Jos Campau.
- Youth between 12 and 17 could ride in the streets and alleys but had to carry an operator’s license from the Chief of Police or a note from their parent or guardian.
- Every bicycle ridden in Hamtramck had to be registered either by the city or an adjacent city. The registration would have been required for anyone riding on the Joe Louis Greenway in Hamtramck.
Fortunately these weren’t being enforced, but it made sense to get them off the books. They were burdensome and provided no benefits.
- Under state law, parents and legal guardians are already responsible for their children’s bicycle riding.
- Bicycle registration can help law enforcement return stolen property to their owner. With the advent of the Internet, there are now a couple free nationwide registrations (or through WSU.) In addition, mandatory bicycle registration can be a pretext for stopping any bicyclist.
The City of Detroit had very similar bicycle ordinances, but we helped remove them years ago.
Now they’re removed in Hamtramck thanks to the leadership of newly-elected City Councilperson Amanda Jaczkowski. Ms. Jaczkowski is also an active bicyclist and supporter of the Joe Louis Greenway.
Our April Newsletter is now online!