Last week, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation that bans the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving. The legislation had a number of advocates, none more so than the League of Michigan Bicyclists.
On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, Matt Penniman, communications and advocacy director for the League, explains why this was so important to his members.
Investigators face challenges identifying distracted driving as a cause of crashes. Some statistics from 2021, the most recent year with updated data:
· 1,248 crashes, 37 cited as involving distracted driving.
· 29 fatal, two cited as involving distracted driving.
· 126 serious, three cited as involving distracted driving.
· 1790 crashes, 92 cited as involving distracted driving.
· 182 fatal, 14 cited as involving distracted driving.
· 343 serious, 22 cited as involving distracted driving.
Penniman also talks about the continuing rise in popularity of electric bicycles (e-bikes), with industry officials anticipating the market growing to nearly $92 billion by 2029.
Other topics include Michigan’s Complete Streets policy and whether it’s time for some updates.
Hello, this is the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast. I'm your host, Jeff Cranston. Last week, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation that bans the use of handheld electronic devices while driving. The legislation had a number of advocates, none more so than the League of Michigan Bicyclists, here today to talk about why his members work so hard to get these bills over. The finish line is Matt Penniman, Director of Communications for the League. Matt, thanks for taking time to be here. Jeff, thanks for having me on So obviously, as you and I have discussed, bicyclists, which I count myself as one, are more vulnerable than drivers and passengers in traditional vehicles, which means that there's a lot of incentive to support these bills. Talk about what the bills mean to you and your members and how you think they'll help.Matt Penniman:
Yeah, i think we've seen a lot of folks decide to switch from riding on roads to riding on trails precisely because of the distracted driving issue. Bicyclists are more vulnerable to distracted drivers and also more aware of distracted drivers because we're right at the height where we can see through the passenger window and see when people are on their phones when they're driving, and it's unfortunately too common. We really want drivers to put phones away. drive phone free as much as possible. If you need to use it for navigation, put it in a dash mount, but as much as possible to break free from your phones when you're behind the wheel and give 100% of your attention to the task of driving 100% of the time. We're really glad that these laws have passed. The National Transportation Safety Board advises states to go even farther and to ban phone use in cars entirely, including hands-free, because there is a cognitive distraction element too, even when you're using it hands-free.Jeff Cranson:
So it's funny you say that, because that's, zeko, what I was going to ask you about next. Some of what you heard from opponents is that, well, this won't really make a dent anyway. And then you turn around and say to them so are you saying that we should just ban phone use altogether? And they're like, well, no, no, i'm not necessarily saying that. So I mean, how do you reconcile that? I know what NTSB says, but if you can do something, you should do it right. That's how you feel.Matt Penniman:
Exactly, this does take a step forward. It takes a step in the right direction. It starts to shift the culture, to make people think, hey, maybe I shouldn't be doing this in the car. And we do know from other states that have passed these kind of laws. they make a difference. There was a study that looked at Oregon, washington and California and their laws and how they really did reduce rear-end crashes in the states that had a good, strong law without loopholes like Michigan's law. Michigan's law is pretty strong.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, and I spoke with a few episodes ago a vice president for Cambridge Mobile Telematics, which is a company that works with insurance companies to get people that are incentivized to volunteer to have their screen time tracked, and it showed that in Ohio there was a 9% decline in distracted driving, as counted by screen time, in the wake of the bills passing and all of the media push that surrounded those bills passing. I'm hoping we see something similar in Michigan, but outside of that you can't expect police to catch everybody doing this, just like they don't catch everybody speeding or doing other illicit things. So what do you think should be the goal? to try to make people aware of this.Matt Penniman:
I think it's got to be a culture change. I think you've got to get to a point where, right now, you would be shocked if you were in a car with a friend and they cracked open a can of beer And we're holding an alcoholic beverage while they were driving. I want to get us to the same place with phones, where you would be shocked If you called your friend and they picked up and they said, oh yeah, i'm driving You. You should feel and they should feel Wait, this is this is not okay. This is a breach of the social contract. I should not be on a call or texting or otherwise messing with my phone while I'm driving.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, that would be quite an achievement.Matt Penniman:
I Think it's gonna take a while to get there.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, yeah, obviously. Well, what? what do you want to do? is with the league going forward? I mean education, on this Education and on other things. I mean, i admit, is a cyclist, i. I ride on trails more often because I feel safer. But if you're riding for exercise and you're sharing the trail with others, you know people sometimes walking three abreast and You say, you know, on your left and they move to the left. It's, it's, it's difficult. So you know, how do you, i Guess, how do you balance those things?Matt Penniman:
I mean, i think you have to figure out your purpose and what's the best, the best type of riding that's gonna fit your purpose. For me, a lot of my riding is for transportation to get to work, to run errands, to get my kids places. So I'm using a mix of trails and bike lanes, depending on the road condition, depending on the amount of traffic, to achieve that, and sometimes that means slowing down when I'm in a heavy pedestrian area. Sometimes it means speeding up when I'm with cars that are going 35 miles an hour. Riding in a bike lane alongside that kind of traffic, how do you so many miles?Jeff Cranson:
Do you think you ride a day for with with purpose other than recreation or exercise, where you're actually doing Something that involves getting your kids somewhere or you know a commute?Matt Penniman:
It depends on the day, but usually five to ten miles Okay, an e-bike, so that makes it a little easier.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, yeah, that's, that's interesting. Well, that brings me to the other topic I wanted to discuss, and that is e-bikes and how much is is happened and how they they've taken off in Michigan and elsewhere. At first I Was, i was concerned about how we coexist with, you know, bikes that are gonna be going faster, especially than some people who are just riding for recreation and maybe are on the trail But not going that fast. And now you've added another Conflict point to people who are, you know, rollerblading or skateboarding or walking. So what's, what's your long-term Outlook for how they they mesh with everything else?Matt Penniman:
I think you bikes can mesh pretty well with other users. A Class one or class two e-bike that you bikes are under state law In a three class system class one and class two the motor can only assist you up to 20 miles per hour. So you're not going any faster at the top speed of assistance on those e-bikes then a fast Cyclist in great shape. The class three will go up to you know more like 26 28 miles an hour. But those High-class e-bikes are not allowed on paid multi-use trails. They're only allowed in bike lanes Along roadways.Jeff Cranson:
What are we learning about people complying with it?Matt Penniman:
You know it's it's voluntary, so you will always have some jerks out there, who, who are disrespectful, but for the most part, on the trails I ride, i'm not seen a lot of conflicts.Jeff Cranson:
What do you? you think I mean based on the numbers you're seeing and how they're, they're proliferating Despite the expense, the upfront expense, i think, once you've made that, that purchase, the, the maintenance and, you know, operations probably don't cost that much more than another bike, right?Matt Penniman:
Right, yeah, and When you compare it to even a cheap car, it's it's pretty affordable and certainly does a lot more for our carbon footprint.Jeff Cranson:
Sure, so what's your prognosis? I mean, what's your crystal ball tell you about? you know where we are with e-bikes a year from now or five years from now?Matt Penniman:
I think they're taking off and I think we'll have a successful integration of them into our transportation system if we can build more safe places for people to ride. You know, there's a saying we'll have peace on the road whenever one has a piece of the road, and I think that's true. I think it'll be easier to integrate e-bikes and other kinds of micro mobility if we have good quality, separated, protected bike lanes that form a complete network that people of all ages and abilities can use.Jeff Cranson:
Well, when you talk about thinking, you know holistically and a change in culture and you know just a mindset and how we look at things, knowing that Michigan has had, you know, a decades long problem with under investment and infrastructure. And we know things now that we didn't know 50 or 60 years ago about how we build roads, which is interesting because you know we had bicycles on roads before we had cars And you know the whole story of the Horatio Earl and you know the early leader at a Michigan Department of Transportation was a bicyclist thought we needed better roads for bicycles And then we came so far from planning roads that and this is all states and the federal government but planning roads that still allowed for the safe use of bicycles. Now we're kind of going back in the other direction, but it takes money and it takes a commitment. What states or countries even I mean we hear about you know Denmark and Copenhagen and certainly the Netherlands, but do you look to that are really models for how we should integrate bicycling with other vehicle travel?Matt Penniman:
I think two states to kind of hold up as models are Washington state and Massachusetts. Massachusetts does a really good job of data collection. They can they have a statewide map of all their bike infrastructure. They do an annual report of the state of their bike infrastructure So you can really see their progress in terms of building out a complete network. I think that kind of data gathering is something that Michigan should seriously explore so that we're making data driven decisions about how to build out the network. Washington state, i think, does a really good job at capturing the benefits of shifting travel from motor vehicles to bicycle and transit and other kinds of modes by taking account of the cost of crashes. You know, if we look at the cost of repairing vehicles, of health care, of lives lost in motor vehicle crashes, that's really a significant amount. And by investing in these modes that are lower hazard, that are creating less hazard for other users, we can remove some of those costs and really create a lot of savings.Jeff Cranson:
Do you feel like in your discussions and your colleagues, discussions with lawmakers, that's starting to resonate that, okay, don't do this, even if you don't really care that much about the environment or believe that we're an environmental crisis, and don't do this just because it's the right thing to do, but do it because there's a bottom line associated with it. Does that resonate?Matt Penniman:
I think so. I think more lawmakers are open to the idea of. You know, we're seeing the cost of new vehicles and even used vehicles go up so much that so many families are having to put a larger and larger portion of their budget to purchasing, maintaining and fueling vehicles. Isn't it great to give people options that are more affordable, that are going to meet their transportation needs without imposing all these costs on the rest of us too, and make those options feel safe, feel that they provide access to everywhere they want to go, that they work for people of all ages, whether you're eight or 80. I think more people are waking up to the idea that this has real potential. You know a lot of us are going to outlive our ability to drive. I hope I do anyway. My grandparents certainly did. There were, you know, several years at the end of their lives where they weren't able to drive anymore, but they still wanted to be able to get out of the house and go places. I think things like electrically assisted trikes and other kinds of micro mobility are going to give people those options that maybe a few generations ago they didn't have. The more we can do to make those choices supported and safe, i think, the more we're going to realize the benefit of kind of a diverse transportation ecosystem where it doesn't have to be one thing for every job. You can have your e-bike for your shorter trips and your inner city bus for your longer trips, or whatever.Jeff Cranson:
We'll be right back, stay tuned.Michigan Message:
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Yeah, i think one of the biggest things I mean, you think, in terms of what the workplace can do to support this and support people and encourage it or incentivize it And one of the simple things that I hear a lot from people is I'd ride my bike to work, but on a hot day I'll be all sweaty when I get there. So you know how about a shower at the workplace? Sure, those kinds of things. I'm sure you hear those same things from people.Matt Penniman:
Yeah, and I think those are definitely useful. I talked to one person who was like a lot of my professional wardrobe includes skirts. I don't feel comfortable riding a bike and a skirt. My work doesn't provide a place to change or keep clothing, so a bike is not an option for me. That would be a real simple change. E-bikes are also nice in that you can dial up the assistance on a hot day so that you're not sweating so much.Jeff Cranson:
That's a good point too. You could go on the way in. Maybe you use the electric motor more, but then on the way home you peddle for exercise.Matt Penniman:
Exactly Yeah, you have that flexibility.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah Well, so what else are you guys working on? We have just a couple more minutes, i guess. What are your hopes and dreams for future legislation or public outreach?Matt Penniman:
Sure, i think one piece we're looking at is that data gathering question of what makes sense for getting a better handle on what the current state of our non-motorized network is like. I think one piece we're looking at is complete streets. Mdot has a complete streets policy that was passed by the State Transportation Commission back in 2012. I haven't seen any updates or reviews of that since then. Maybe it's a good time, for, since FHWA has come out with new guidance on complete streets, including a report to Congress, maybe it's a good time to revisit that and encourage communities across the state to take a look at their complete streets policies and make sure they're really doing everything they need to. I think there's a lot of resources out there now on complete streets that didn't exist a few years ago, and if folks just have a policy that's been sitting on the shelf, they may not realize there are some of these opportunities out there in terms of federal funding, in terms of design guidance for things that we know now are more effective ways to do bike infrastructure. So I think it's a promising time. I think there's a lot that we can do together And I'm really hopeful that, as we see the EV transition go ahead, we can also see a multimodal transition that enables more folks to make the choices that work best for them and have those choices be safe.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, i think you make a really good point about the complete streets policy and you know a need to maybe be constantly looking at it and thinking about the evolution. It's probably good that I would acknowledge here Tim Fisher, who worked in my office at MDOT for a while and now is with the Michigan Infrastructure Office. When he was at the Michigan Environmental Council he did a great deal of the heavy lifting to get that complete streets legislation through and to Governor Granholm's desk and then eventually to the State Transportation Commission. I think I've included my good friend and someone who's been a guest on the podcast before, suzanne Schultz, who was the planning director in the city of Grand Rapids at the time. So I think maybe it is time to engage a lot of those folks and take another look at what more can be done, because a lot has changed since then. you're right. What, in the simplest form, you know, what would you look at?Matt Penniman:
Well, i would look at Smart Growth America, which every year recognizes the best complete streets policies across the country and has offered a framework of what they look at for kind of rating those policies for their effectiveness. Does our statewide policy, you know, hit all those boxes? Do we have a model policy to propose to communities that would hit all of those boxes? You know questions like equity does this really serve all the communities that have been historically disadvantaged? Implementation? does this policy let us track our success over time? Does it let us measure how close we are to completion or to where we want to be? I think those are some things that may not be intuitive and I think having a strong model policy might help communities that have a lot going on really look at their complete streets policy that maybe was passed, you know, five, seven years ago and say, oh, this is a really simple way we could improve it and make sure we're doing the right things.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, i think those are really good points And yeah, again, i think you're right, we should always be looking at those things And I guess one of the challenges you have to keep in mind is that the different, the disparate people that were brought together to finally get some consensus on this all define success differently, and that's what can make this so challenging.Matt Penniman:
Sure, but I do think it helps to define success publicly, so that your constituents can hold you accountable for whether you're setting the right definition and whether you're meeting your own definition of success.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, well said Well. Thanks again, matt, and congratulations again on the work and success that the league had in their part in getting these distracted driving bills Finally to the governor.Matt Penniman:
Thank you very much, and I do also want to note all the families of distracted driving crash victims that spoke out in support of these bills. There were many, many families and advocates that came forward, including folks from Transportation Improvement Association, the Horal Family Foundation, the Kiefer Foundation, who really played a big part in making this happen.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, absolutely. There were some very compelling stories and those people were part of the bill signings on June 7th And I think it felt like a good day for all of them, but it's always bittersweet because of the memories that it provokes, for sure. Yeah, yeah, okay, well, thanks again, matt. Thank you, jeff. I'd like to thank you once more for tuning in to Talking Michigan Transportation. You can find show notes and more on Apple podcasts or Buzzsprout. I also want to acknowledge the talented people who help make this a reality each week, starting with Randy Debbler, who skillfully edits the audio, jesse Ball, who proves the content, courtney Bates, who posts the podcast of various platforms, and Jackie Salinas, who transcribes the audio to make it accessible to all.