New laws mean nothing, until distracted driving is seen as uncool

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Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel.

That's the intention behind a new law in Michigan targeting novice teenage drivers.

It's an honorable intention. It might even give in-vehicle voice-operated systems such as MyFord Touch a boost among young buyers.

But it's only a first step in what needs to be an aggressive consistent campaign against distracted driving. Otherwise this law simply misses the mark.

On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a statute that prohibits novice teenage drivers from talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. The law is dubbed "Kelsey's Law" after Kelsey Raffaele. Raffaele was 17 when she was killed in a 2010 car crash while talking on a cell phone.

A violation would result in a civil infraction determined by municipalities. But there are exemptions.

Teens can make emergency phone calls and they can talk on voice-operated, hands-free talking systems in vehicles. That last point gives automakers who offer such systems a marketing edge. But will this law save lives if teens are still focusing on anything but driving?

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said hands and eyes are not the only problem with distracted driving.

It's the mind, too.

So even hands-free systems can distract a driver from safely operating a vehicle.

This law is a step in the right direction in keeping the conversation going about the hazards of distracted driving.

But until we make texting and talking behind the wheel as socially unacceptable as drunk driving is, this law probably won't be much of a deterrent.

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com. -- Follow Jamie on Twitter

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