SIDNEY — As State Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, began discussing legislative items from Lansing on Monday, she dug out her cell phone to use as an example on the discussion of teens using cell phones while driving.
Emmons was speaking about Senate Bill 756, otherwise known as “Kelsey’s Law,” at the monthly Legislative Luncheon at Montcalm Community College. The bill is named after Kelsey Raffaele, 17, who was killed while talking on her cell phone while driving in January 2010.
“Kelsey’s Law” is a plan to ban cell phone use by teen drivers who are operating with a level 1 or 2 graduated drivers license. As Emmons spoke, she began pushing buttons on her phone and pretended to make a call in an effort to show how distracting making a phone call can be while driving.
“The whole goal is that (teens) are not driving down the road, punching in numbers and trying to reach someone on the phone,” Emmons said. “The bill is now out of the Senate. It has now gone over to the House and we will see what they do with it over there.”
Emmons said she hopes to see a slight revision to the bill, which was passed by the State Senate on March 15 and now waits for passage in the House of Representatives, that would include an explanation for teens as to when it is appropriate to make a phone call while in a vehicle.
“The concern is, for me, that children of course need parameters,” she said. “I think we need to tell them when they can use their cell phones otherwise this could become interpretive. I would like (the bill) to define when they can use their cell phone. Can they pull off to the side of the road and use it? I don’t know. That information was not included in the original legislation.”
Emmons is hoping that information will be added now that the bill is waiting on the House floor.
“Maybe I can get a little help with it over there, at least some input from law enforcement on what they deem acceptable usage,” she said.
According to Emmons, drivers who are 16-17 years old and driving with a level 1 or 2 graduated driver’s license would also be unable to use a blue-tooth device, but in-car OnStar systems would be acceptable.
Ben Witbrodt, a retired postal employee from the Langston area, spoke to Emmons directly Monday about the issue and said technology has become too sophisticated for teenagers while driving, especially in comparison to when he was a teenager.
“I don’t think teenagers should be using cellphones, texting or talking while they are driving, but I don’t think another layer of laws is going to help anything,” Witbrodt said. “I think education is the biggest thing. When you look at these cars nowadays, they have more buttons and screens on them than your home computer does. That’s enough of a distraction for everybody, let alone a teenager. When I was a teenager, the biggest technology in my car was an AM radio.”
For State Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, the issue of teens driving while making phone calls hits very close to home.
“I’ve got a daughter who just turned 17 this month and I cringe even thinking about it,” Outman said.
“I’ve watched her text in her pocket without even looking at her phone, which amazes me. I definitely don’t have a problem with this, as unpopular as it may be to these kids, I’m in favor of it. I know it doesn’t seem fair and you always have excuses on why you think differently now, but it isn’t because we don’t want them to have fun — we’re just concerned for their safety.”