04 May 2010

Granholm Signs Texting-Driving Ban on 'Oprah'

Bloomberg / Business Week

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia beat Michigan to the punch when it comes to banning texting while driving. Yet it was Michigan's governor who was the one who signed it into law Friday under the approving gaze of Oprah Winfrey.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the legislation that bans sending, typing or reading text messages or e-mails about halfway through the broadcast of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" via satellite from Detroit's Renaissance Center. The law takes effect July 1.

"Thank you, Gov. Granholm. Michigan just became a safer place because of this new law," Winfrey, who broadcast from Chicago, said while Granholm signed the three-bill package at a public rally. Attendees included lawmakers behind the bills and high school students who hooted, hollered and held up signs affirming their stance against texting and driving.

Other "No Phone Zone" rallies held in Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta and Washington also were part of the broadcast.

Winfrey launched the campaign against distracted driving in January and has sponsored a pledge on her website asking motorists to commit to not text or talk on phones while driving.

"Today is a call to action to stop the madness of distracted driving," Winfrey said.

General Motors Co. officials said Friday they will ask the company's 77,000 U.S. employees as well as dealers and other affiliates to sign the pledge. Many GM workers attended the rally, since the building is the automaker's global headquarters.

Among those who spoke at the pre-show rally in Detroit was Loretta Strong, 66, paralyzed since a 2008 crash caused by a teenage girl who was texting while driving. On the back of Strong's wheelchair is a sign that reads, "I got this ride because someone decided to text and drive."

"We need to take this more seriously," said Strong, who goes to therapy three times a week and lives with her daughter in the suburban Detroit community of Macomb Township. The law, she said, is "going to be a good thing," and "I want to promote this in any way I can."

Texting will be a primary offense under Michigan's law, meaning police can pull over motorists solely for using phones to send text messages. Michigan is the 19th state with a primary ban.

The legislation does not ban using cell phones to make calls while driving, but that's clearly part of Winfrey's campaign.

"Put down your phone when you drive -- simple as that," she said during the show.

Granholm said texting is the biggest culprit of distracted driving because the driver's eyes, hands and mind are distracted. Still, she told reporters after the event that she hopes lawmakers take the "next step" and require the use of handsfree phone technology.

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