292 People Were Killed, and 31,233 Injured, Since Hands-Free Legislation was Introduced in Michigan During 2016

TIA, Victims, and Officials Say It’s Time to Act – Pass Senate Bill 409

Contact: Jim Santilli, CEO, (248) 334-4971

Laurel Zimmerman (left) the mother of Ally Zimmerman, testifies before the House Transportation Committee on May 16, 2017.

TROY, Michigan, April 29, 2021 – Jim Santilli, CEO of the Transportation Improvement Association (TIA), and two victims are encouraging the Michigan Legislature to make distracted driving a top priority and take action on Senate Bill 409. SB 409, which was introduced today by State Senator Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), would make Michigan a hands-free state. There are currently 26 hands-free states in the nation.

“Since TIA and former State Representative Martin Howrylak announced the first hands-free bill on September 6, 2016, preliminary numbers indicate 292 people were killed and 31,233 were injured in 81,886 crashes that were reported to involve a distraction,” said Santilli. “Many of these deaths and injuries likely would have been prevented if the Michigan Legislature and Governor enacted a hands-free law. SB 409 is the only distracted driving bill in the Michigan Legislature that will improve safety, as well as be enforceable if it becomes a law.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, drivers who use a hand-held device are 4 times more likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injury. Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash.

“We are seeing too many drivers looking at, and typing on, electronic devices while driving,” said Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington. “To make our roads safer, we need the Michigan Legislature to enact a true hands-free bill such as SB 409. Lives can be saved, and injuries will be prevented, if drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel while driving.”

If SB 409 becomes a law, drivers would be prohibited from holding or using a portable electronic device on a highway or street in Michigan. Drivers could still use their phone hands-free with Bluetooth or a windshield or dash mount using voice-activated features, such as Siri, or a single tap or swipe to answer a call.

According to Santilli, California was the first state in the nation to enact a ban on hand-held cell phone use in July of 2008.

“Based on traffic crash records two years before and two years after the hand-held ban went into effect, overall traffic deaths declined 22% and hand-held cell phone driver deaths went down 47%,” said Santilli. “After Georgia implemented a hands-free law, distracted driving dropped 21%.”

The Hands-Free Michigan Campaign began after Santilli attended the funeral for Ally Zimmerman, a 16-year-old Romeo High School student who was hit by a distracted driver while traveling as an innocent passenger on December 28, 2010. TIA immediately joined forces with Ally’s family and friends, and numerous businesses and law enforcement agencies, to create the Remembering Ally: Distracted Driving Awareness Campaign. Ally’s mother, Laurel Zimmerman, and Santilli both agreed that Michigan’s current texting law is too specific and a hands-free law would be easier to enforce. After communicating with law enforcement leaders throughout the nation to determine the best language for a bill, Santilli officially announced a plan to send a hands-free recommendation to the Michigan Legislature during a press conference on March 30, 2016. Shortly after the announcement, Howrylak reached out to Santilli and offered to sponsor a bill. Since 2019, TIA and victims have partnered with Johnson on hands-free bills. SB 409 is the latest bill.

“My daughter, Ally, lost her life in 2011 due to a distracted driver,” said Zimmerman. “Since then, too many families have lost a loved one due to distracted driving. Ally was passionate about helping others and would want SB 409 passed.”

Jim Freybler, who lost his son to texting and driving, supports the ban on hand-held cell phone use. He has worked on the Hands-Free Michigan Campaign since 2017.

“As drivers, we all have the ability to save lives and prevent injuries through the choices we make,” said Freybler. “A brief distraction can take away a loved one forever. Please remember my son, Jacob, and don’t drive distracted.”

TIA, with support from BMG Media, has maintained the official Hands-Free Michigan Campaign website since 2016. For more information, including crash data, please visit: www.handsfreemichigan.com

During April, which is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, TIA, State Farm, the Michigan State Police, county and local law enforcement, and high school students joined forces to remind the public to avoid distractions while driving. Through a $20,000 grant provided by State Farm, TIA challenged Michigan high school students to design a distracted driving awareness billboard. The selection committee chose a design created by Leah Howell, an 11th grade student at the West Shore Educational School District Career and Technical Education Center. The design, which is titled “Choose LIVING, not LOOKING,” was selected because the danger of distracted driving is communicated in a short, creative message. Howell’s design currently can be seen throughout the state of Michigan. Nearly 7 million impressions will be made.

TIA is also coordinating with numerous law enforcement agencies to plan a distracted driving enforcement initiative that will take place during May.