New Restrictions For Teen Drivers

By: Brian Johnson Email
By: Brian Johnson Email

Starting Thursday drivers between the ages of 14 to 17 will get pulled over and ticketed if they're caught talking on the phone.

"My message to teens is that they create the most amount of accidents from distracted driving from using cell phones, whether its texting or talking. [By not doing so] they will not only save their own, but other people that are out on our road and it's so important." said Ruth Johnson, the Michigan Secretary of State.

The law is named after a Kelsey Raffaele--who died in an accident while on the phone in January 2010. Her mother hopes teens will heed the warnings.

"There is no conversation, no tweet, no text, no Facebook checking, nothing that is worth your life or the life of somebody else," said Bonnie Raffaele, the Mother of Kelsey. "If you think it won't happen you could be wrong. You know, you could be wrong."

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a parent of a teenage driver says parents can lecture and instruct, but "...in the end it really does come down to her making the right decision when she thinks no one else is watching. But tomorrow thanks to Kelsey's law someone will be watching and writing tickets."

The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning is spreading the word through it's new "Put Your Phone in Park" campaign.

"Distractions can happen to anybody regardless of age and we really encourage people to stay off the cell phone when they are in the car and driving regardless of how old they are," said Michael Prince, the director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning. "We encourage everybody, stay off the phones, everyone keep your phone in park when you are behind the wheel of a car-- is the safest thing to do."

Officers say enforcement will not be a problem.

"Teens are more likely to be in a crash and a fatal crash. They are inexperienced drivers and they need to focus on one thing--driving, not talking on the cell phone or any other type of distraction," said Christine Grabowski a first lieutenant with the Michigan State Police.

Those teens caught violating the law can expect a minimum ticket of $100. However other fines and court costs could increase the overall ticket price to nearly $300.

There are only two exceptions for teen cell phone use. Teens can use cell phones in an emergency or if the car has a built-in hands-free device. After market add-ons, head phones or blue tooth ear pieces do not count. The hands free device must be built into the vehicle by the manufacturer.

There is mixed reaction among students and parents about the new law.

"I don't think many people are going to follow that law," said Kierra Jones, a 12 grader at East Lansing High School

"I think it's perfect so that people don't get in car accidents," said Katie Springer, a 10 grader at East Lansing High School.

Rachel Wilson is a driving instructor at AAA. She teaches about 100 students every year, and said many students agree with Kelsey's law-- which prohibits young drivers ages 14-17 to use cell phones while driving.

"In general i think they are very much in favor for it. They understand the reasoning behind it. It makes sense. It's logical, and i think in general we will see participation out of it," said Rachel Wilson, the Lead Instructor at AAA Driver Training.

While adults are not required to comply, Wilson believes those kids whose parents don't follow the principles behind Kelsey's law, their teens are less likely to obey it.

"I just hear stories from students talking about the things that their parents do behind the wheel--for example texting, emailing, searching on the internet, and talking on the phone too," said Wilson.

"I'm not going to lie. We are all guilty of that," said Kari Halsey, a grandmother of a teenage student. "But I do think that if you have kids watching you, let's face it that's the first thing a teenager is going to say, 'Well you do it' so we do need to probably work on the example."

It's something parents should think about.

In 2011, 16 teens in Michigan died in fatal accidents while driving.


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