GRAND RAPIDS, MI — As Grand Rapids officials turn their focus to pedestrian safety, state Rep. David LaGrand said he and his fellow legislators need to do more to address the use of cell phones by motorists.
LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, spoke frankly Monday, Sept. 11, following an event held to highlight Kent County’s above-average totals for pedestrian-involved motor vehicle crashes and introduce the city’s new pedestrian safety campaign.
Between 2012 and 2015, Kent County had 790 pedestrian-involved crashes — the third most across the state. The growing concern is a national trend in recent years, and one that many have deemed a result of more distracted drivers on the road.
“Cars have not all of a sudden gotten less safe, and we’re not all of a sudden worse drivers,” LaGrand said. “It’s become OK for me to pull out my phone during a conversation because I just got a text message, where before that would have been considered rude. And that has been adopted into our car culture.”
LaGrand said he and state Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, are a part of a legislature that has not done enough to address cell phone use among drivers.
Earlier this year, LaGrand co-sponsored a bill that aimed to ban the use of phones while driving, with the exception of voice-activated and hands-off technology such as speaker phone or Bluetooth.
H.B. 4466, authored by state Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, would expand on the Michigan law that already prohibits texting while driving. LaGrand said the current law isn’t enforceable due to the myriad of other uses of smart phones, which give drivers loopholes during a traffic stop.
“I think a lot of us spend far too much time looking at phones and thinking it’s OK and I think one thing we can do as legislators is advocate for a complete halt of using cell phone devices for any purpose while driving,” LaGrand said.
“If you’re driving, your goal should be to drive safely, not to find out if you need to pick up milk or to check in with your spouse or to do business. Your goal should be to avoid accidents.”
The proposed cell phone ban would include drivers stopped at a traffic light or stop sign, and would also ban the use of other electronics by drivers, including GPS devices, pagers, electronic games and computers.
Since being sent to the House Transportation Committee in May, the bill hasn’t received much attention or activity.
LaGrand challenged the Grand Rapids City Commission to consider a citywide ban on cell phone use by motorists.
The Grand Rapids pedestrian-safety initiative begins with a two-week campaign to educate motorists and pedestrians about safe behaviors. Police will monitor 21 crosswalks throughout the city, with a focus on education rather than handing out tickets.
A survey will also be sent out to Grand Rapids-area residents to gain insight into their awareness and perceptions of pedestrian safety laws.
The first phase of the campaign is funded by a $120,000 grant from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning. Officials said similar studies will be done in the future to measure success and determine additonal areas of improvement.