Driving-while-texting law will send the right message

Michigan’s lawmakers this week are delivering an important message. If drivers get it, they won’t use their cell phones or any other device to send or receive text messages while driving.

The governor April 30 signed three bills — on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” no less! — that ban people from sending text messages while driving.

The legislation takes aim at activity that has no defense, but is all too common. People who are sending text messages behind the wheel — or reading them, for that matter — are by definition distracted. They are taking their eyes off the road, putting themselves and others in danger.

How widespread is this problem? It’s hard to say beyond offering anecdotes. In November, for example, a 17-year-old driver was killed in a crash on I-94 while texting, police believe.

Younger drivers are particularly prone to take part in such reckless behavior, given that text messaging is central to today’s teen culture. Teens, too, are less experienced behind the wheel and more likely to make bad decisions born from overconfidence.

We don’t pretend that a texting-while-driving ban will prevent recklessness among drivers. There are legitimate questions how often police will be able to catch a driver in the act.

Still, there are times when a law’s importance is to set a standard. It establishes that some behavior is not just foolish, but a true danger to society’s well-being. This law will be taught in driver’s education classes, too, and it will deter most drivers.

The state Senate and House briefly were divided on what would happen to fines that will be generated by this law — House members at first wanted the money to replace “driver responsibility fees” for bad drivers — but we are pleased they found a compromise.

In this case, the Legislature put the public’s safety first. There is good cause to believe now that Michigan’s roads will get a little safer.