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Michigan father pushes distracted driving bill years after son's death

Posted at 1:23 PM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-19 13:23:43-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Almost seven years after losing his son to texting and driving, Jim Freybler is still advocating for Michigan to become a hands-free state.

"Back in 2014, my son was texting and driving. He crossed the center line hit SUV head on and was killed. The other person in the car suffered severe injuries to their leg. So, this has been going on for me since 2014," said Freybler.

That moment that took his son's life has stayed with Freybler and serves as his motivation to end distracted driving in Michigan.

With the goal of making Michigan a hands-free state, Freybler is advocating for Michigan Senate Bill 409 to be passed this year.

The senate bill is being sponsored by Senator Ruth Johnson, and the Transportation Improvement Association.

READ MORE: Proposed bills aim to modernize texting while driving laws in Michigan

Freybler is opposing House Bill 4277, part of a three-bill package we told you about last month, saying it's simply not enough.

"They're saying it's all hands-free, but there are some glitches in it," said Freybler. "Where our bill, Senate Bill 409 is a true hands-free bill. Hands-free is hands-free. It means nothing in the hand. So, you won't be able to be on social media. The Manoogian bills still doesn't cover whether you're reading a newspaper. People are going to find the loopholes."

That's one of Freybler's biggest concerns, loopholes, and making sure police officers can enforce these laws.

"I think as law enforcement officers, we always kind of seem to be one step behind of things. So, with the advancements of vehicle technology, or even, you know, cell phone technology, we always kind of seem to be behind," said Sgt. Joy Matthews of Kent County Sheriff's Office.

Sgt. Matthews says current texting while driving law leaves a lot of room for drivers to drive distracted and it's a dangerous problem.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash.

Another report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated distracted driving was the cause 3,142 deaths across the country in 2019.

"With regards to handheld devices, no doubt that if this law does pass, it will significantly reduce the number of crashes and fatalities in our state," said Sgt. Matthews. "Anything that we can contribute to or support that reduces the number of lives that are taken from vehicles or distracted driving, we absolutely do support."

As for when and if Senate Bill 409 could become law, that's not exactly clear.

Freybler says in the seven years he's spent advocating for hand-free law, he's learned you must take it one step at a time.

"It needs to pass this year. It needs to. We're not going to quit until it totally gets through," said Freybler.

In response to Freybler's opposition to her bill, Rep. Manoogian provided the following statement:

I’m proud of the hard, bipartisan work that was done to craft HBs 4277, 4278, and 4279. Having worked together to secure broad stakeholder support from around the state and the country, including General Motors and AAA, I’m confident that this can be the year that we end distracted driving in Michigan.
Rep. Mari Manoogian