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Distracted Driving Michigan – Where We’re At, Where We’re (Hopefully) Going

man-on-phone-driving-car

“Get your face out of your app!” reads Michigan State Police’s new slogan aimed at reducing Michigan distracted driving. And the State Police should know. After all, their own statistics reveal that drivers using some kind of electronic device behind the wheel caused 5,237 accidents in 2017, 23 of which were fatal and 1,514 results in injuries. Obviously, distracted driving is an epidemic and causes far too many serious and fatal accidents on Michigan’s roads, but the real question is whether anyone is going to make any real effort beyond ad slogans to do anything about it.

In her first State of the State address, Governor Whitmer called for the Legislature to make Michigan distracted driving a priority. Further, she requested a bill with meaningful steps to reduce distracted driving to sign into law. As a result, the Michigan Legislature has since initiated this process and introduced several bills. But will they bring about substantive change and can we expect anything meaningful out of this?

Michigan’s Current Distracted Driving Laws

To understand this most recent set of distracted driving bills, you must first understand what the current laws say. In short, Michigan distracted driving laws are currently among the weakest in the country and virtually impossible for police to enforce. This sends a clear message that, up to this point, Michigan lawmakers haven’t made eliminating distracted driving a priority.

While plenty of distractions have always faced drivers – radio stations, screaming kids, applying makeup, eating fast food, etc. – they’ve dramatically increased over the years. Driving distractions have multiplied exponentially with the use of cell phones and handheld devices in vehicles. Now, from the comfort behind your own steering wheel, you can text, search the web, send emails, make calendar appointments, surf a hashtag, and scroll your Instagram or Facebook feed (please note our sarcasm, we are in no way condoning this behavior).

Michigan’s current distracted driving laws essentially create three classes of drivers:

  1. Drivers of ordinary motor vehicles, such as an automobile, SUV, or pickup truck.
  2. Those driving commercial motor vehicles.
  3. New drivers, specifically those with a level 1 or level 2 graduated driver’s license.

Most people fall into the first category and, simply put, the law doesn’t do much to prevent this group from cell phone use resulting in distracted driving. The law only prohibits texting while holding the phone in your hand or lap while driving a motor vehicle. The relevant portion of the statute reads:

“… a person shall not read, manually type, or send a text message on a wireless 2-way communication device that is located in the person’s hand or in the person’s lap, including a wireless telephone used in cellular telephone service or personal communication service, while operating a motor vehicle that is moving on a highway or street in this state.”

In other words, the following situations are completely legal in Michigan:

  • Texting or reading a text while your phone is resting on your console, dashboard, or device mount
  • Texting while riding a motorcycle (under Michigan law, a motorcycle is considered a vehicle but not a motor vehicle)
  • Reading or typing a post on social media, regardless of the location of your phone
  • Reading or typing emails
  • Checking or creating calendar entries
  • Playing a video game or solving a puzzle
  • Watching a YouTube video

You get the idea. Michigan distracted driving laws only prohibit texting. The law fails to prohibit everything else a person could do on their cell phone.

Distracted Driving Michigan – No Enforcement & Lackluster Penalties

Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to enforce Michigan distracted driving laws. If an officer stops someone for looking at their phone, the driver can claim they were doing one of the previously mentioned actions. Just as long as it wasn’t typing or sending a text with their hand or in their lap. Additionally, violating distracted driving laws in Michigan results in hardly any negative consequences. A violation is considered a civil infraction punishable by a fine of $100 for first-time offenders and $200 for a second offense. Amazingly, violators don’t receive points on their driver’s license.

To put this in context, almost all moving violations result in points on one’s driving record. Of the violations that don’t result in points, they’re usually so serious, the violator is likely going to jail. Therefore, they won’t be driving for some time.

When you scrutinize it this way, you’ll likely realize that Legislature passed a distracted driving law simply to say they passed a law. Not because lawmakers are serious about stopping distracted driving. For this reason, it’s not hard to see why Governor Whitmer has called for immediate action regarding this important issue.

State Representatives Propose Changes to the Law

In 2019, when we first published this article, lawmakers from both parties had introduced distracted driving bills in the Michigan House – HB 4198 (Cole/Sheppard bill) and HB 4181 (Manoogian bill). Ultimately, neither bill was taken up at that time. Now, in a new legislative session, a new House Bill has been proposed seeking to strengthen Michigan’s distracted driving laws – House Bill 4277.

2021 Distracted Driving Update – HB 4277

Grand Rapids car crash lawyer, Tom Sinas, appeared on Fox 17 “Know the Law” in March of 2021 to give an update on Michigan’s distracted driving legislation, in particular, one bill that seeks major safety reform regarding the use of mobile devices while we drive.

Introduced early in the 2021 legislative session, HB 4277 proposes to severely limit how people can use their mobile devices in their car. The legislation prohibits people from using mobile devices in their car with a few exceptions to this rule. Additionally, the legislation outlines a number of other instances in which no exceptions apply.

Tom Sinas explains HB 4277 on Fox 17 “Know the Law”

The following are examples of instances in which there are no exceptions:

  • Drivers cannot have two headphones in their ears while operating a motor vehicle
  • People cannot access their social media accounts from their phone while operating a motor vehicle
  • People cannot be viewing or recording videos while driving

Tom further describes the few exceptions built into this bill include:

  • Prohibitions do not apply to first responders
  • People are allowed to make 911 calls
  • Permits people to use GPS devices on their phone provided they’re not typing the location in while on the device
  • Allows for reading or entering a phone number to make a phone call
  • Permits for the use of voice-activated software on a mobile device or hands-free equipment to make a phone call

Furthermore, the bill proposes a series of penalties for those who violate this legislation. As a law firm that handles hundreds of car accident cases on behalf of injured people in Michigan, we are always hopeful that our Legislators will pass stricter protections regarding our state distracted driving laws. We will provide further updates when available.