Woman looking at her phone while driving

After Losing Son, GM Exec Calls for Distracted Driving Ban

In an emotional moment, Steven Kiefer asked business and legislative leaders assembled at this week’s Mackinac Policy Conference to close their eyes and imagine their last interactions with a loved one.

What were they wearing? What did they talk to you about or what were you doing together? Did you tell them you loved them?

Then, he asked the crowd to imagine if that interaction was the last one they had.

It’s a tragic reality for Kiefer, a senior vice president at General Motors Co., who lost his son Mitchel on Sept. 19, 2016 due to a distracted driver.

“It’s just a permanent hole in your heart,” Kiefer explained.

The family started the Kiefer Foundation to advocate for changing the norms around distracted driving. Kiefer and the foundation support hands free legislation, which would ban the use of all hand-held devices while driving. Eighteen states have adopted similar laws, which have significantly reduced crashes and fatalities.

“These are effective,” Kiefer said. “These are saving lives.”

There was a time not so long ago when smoking on planes and in restaurants, smoking and drinking while pregnant and not giving a second thought to getting behind the wheel after drinking were cultural norms, Kiefer pointed out.

“My son, Mitchel, paid with his life, for this cultural norm,” he said, referring to distracted driving.

Kiefer collapsed when a police officer gave him the news that his 18-year-old son was gone. Described as quiet and quirky, Mitchel was a hockey goalie with a loving spirit. His dad said he saw the best in people and “lived more in 18 years than some people do in a lifetime.” He’d been on his way to Michigan State University when a distracted driver rear-ended him, forcing his vehicle into oncoming traffic. He was hit by a truck and killed instantly.

Preventing other families from losing loved ones to distracted driving is the aim of the Kiefer Foundation. About nine people die every day because of distracted drivers and Kiefer said hands free laws can’t happen soon enough. He pointed to the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers to change laws and penalties for drunk driving as a model his organization is trying to replicate.

“They changed the norms,” he said.

Learn more about the Kiefer Foundation’s efforts to stop distracted driving here.

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Photo credit: Goads Agency

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