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A Father’s Mission to End Distracted Driving

Greg Tasker

Steven Kiefer speaks at The Kiefer Foundation’s 2nd Annual Swing for Safe Driving Golf Outing at Oakland Hills Country Club on Monday, June 11, 2018. Photo courtesy of The Kiefer Foundation.

Nearly three years ago, Steven Kiefer found himself to be an unexpected advocate on the dangers of distracted driving.

Kiefer, senior vice president of global purchasing and supply chain management at General Motors Co., lost his 18-year-old son Mitchel Kiefer in a car accident on I-96 outside of Lansing in September 2016. Mitchel was returning to Michigan State University when he was struck from behind by a distracted driver. The impact forced his car across the median and into the path of an eastbound full-size tractor trailer.

In his grief, Kiefer and his family established the Kiefer Foundation, which initially began as a memorial to his son and to raise awareness about distracted driving. In its first year and half, the foundation focused largely on memorial activities with the goal of increasing public awareness about fatalities and injuries caused by distracted driving.

The foundation also worked with the Michigan Department of Transportation to have a 1.7-mile-long cable guardrail placed along the median in Ingham County where Mitchel’s car was hit, to help prevent similar accidents.

In the past year, the nonprofit organization has turned its focus to legislation. Last month, it launched the Hands-Free Michigan campaign. It also has stopped accepting corporate donations, choosing to work with other nonprofit groups to work more closely with organizations that are spreading the message.

“We’re really trying to use a grassroots approach to get as many people — young people, people of all ages, involved,” Kiefer says.

Kiefer will talk about the organization’s efforts to get handsfree legislation passed in Michigan and his family’s journey since Mitchel’s death during a Mackinac Moment at the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference.

So far, 16 states have passed hands-free legislation, and in those states, deaths have dropped dramatically, Kiefer says. About 10 people a day are killed in accidents involving distracted drivers, he noted. Similar laws banning the use of cell phones while behind the wheel have been successful in Canada and Europe. If passed in Michigan, the law would allow police to pull over motorists who are using their cell phones while driving. Violators would be fined.

“We’d really like Michigan to be the 17th state to pass hands-free legislation,” Kiefer says.

The Automotive Hall of Fame last year honored Kiefer with its Distinguished Service Citation for his work to end distracted driving through the foundation.

Kiefer manages to continue his public service campaign, while balancing a demanding job and travels, as well as the responsibilities of raising a family. He has three other children.

“It’s all about time management and great teams,” Kiefer says. “I am so fortunate to have a great family, an outstanding team at GM, and a network of amazing people associated with our foundation, that are passionate about the cause.”

Greg Tasker is a Michigan-based freelance writer.