GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — There’s a proposed new Distracted Driving Law in Michigan, a package of bills that has passed the house and senate, and is working its way to governor Whitmer for a signature.
Brandon Hewitt is an attorney with Michigan Auto Law. We asked him about the new distracted driving law and how it would differ from what’s already on the books.
Hewitt said House Bills 4250, 4251 and 4252 were introduced back in March of this year and he laid out the good and the bad.
- New law is good because it will help get people’s hands off their phones and electronic devices and back on the steering wheel where they belong.
- Highlights and raises awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.
- Highlights and raises awareness about the many types of dangerous driving distractions, i.e., texting, talking on the phone, watching videos, going on social media.
- Strengthens the deterrent effect by increasing the penalties for distracted driving.
- BIG LOOPHOLE – When drivers use their cell phone or “mobile electronic device” in hands-free or voice-operated mode – or when it is “placed in a mount” – they can still text and talk on the phone . . . and watch videos and go on social media while driving because the law only prohibits those distractions if they’re engaged in while using a hand-held phone.
- Worst case scenario is this loophole will provide distracted drivers with a legal defense if the police try to ticket them for watching videos or going on social media while they’re driving.
- The increase in penalties are relatively minor.
- The penalties for distracted driving are still woefully inadequate compared to the penalties for drunk driving, considering that both involve similarly high crash risks.
- See MAL’s blog post, “Distracted Driving vs Drunk Driving: Punishment Is Unequal”: https://www.michiganautolaw.com/blog/2023/05/02/distracted-driving-vs-drunk-driving/
- New law expires in 5 years.
Hewitt explained how the new law would differ from current Distracted Driving Laws in Michigan.
He said, currently, there is a Texting Ban. Drivers of all ages are prohibited from using a hand-held cell phone to text while driving. (MCL 257.602b(1)) Violation of the texting ban is a civil infraction. (MCL 257.602b(6)) The maximum penalty for texting while driving is limited to a $100 fine for a first violation and $200 fine for a second or subsequent violation. (MCL 257.602b(6)(a) and (b); 257.907(2)(h)) An infraction results in no points on a person’s driving record (so long as he or she is not driving a commercial vehicle or a school bus). (MCL 257.320a(2)) There is no driver’s license suspension (MCL 257.319) no jail time, and no community service.
Hewitt explained there is also a cellphone ban for teen drivers, known as Kelsey’s Law. Teen drivers with a Level 1 or Level 2 graduated licensing status are prohibited from talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. (MCL 257.602c(1)) NOTE: The cellphone ban does not apply if a teen driver is “using a voice-operated system that is integrated into the motor vehicle. MCL 257.602c(3) Violation of Kelsey’s Law is a civil infraction. (MCL 257.602c(4)) There are no fines (MCL 257.907(2)) no points on a person’s driving record (MCL 257.320a(2)) no driver’s license suspension (MCL 257.319) no jail time, and no community service.
Hewitt laid out some of the high points of the new Distracted Driving Law:
- Drivers of all ages would be prohibited from using a hand-held cell phone to engage in any of the following behaviors while driving: (1) sending or receiving a telephone call; (2) sending, receiving, or reading a text message; (3) viewing, recording, or transmitting a video; and (4) accessing, reading, or posting to a social networking site. (HB 4250)
- Fine for first violation remains $100, but distracted driver could also get 16 hours of community service. (HB 4250)
- Fine for second or subsequent violation increases from $200 to $250, but distracted driver could also get 24 hours of community service. (HB 4250)
- Three (3) or more violations within 3-year period, distracted driver must complete a “basic driver improvement course” (HB 4250)
- 1 point for second violation of MCL 257.602b. (HB 4251)
- 2 points for third or subsequent violation of MCL 257.602b. (HB 4251)
- The “voice-operated system” loophole in Kelsey’s Law would be closed so that teen drivers would be completely prohibited from using a cell phone while driving, regardless of whether it is a hand-held or hands-free phone. (HB 4252)
Of course, there are low points, according to Hewitt:
- The prohibition on texting, talking on the phone, watching videos and going social media while you’re driving ONLY APPLIES if you’re doing so on a hand-held cell phone or mobile electronic device. (HB 4250)
- If you’re using your cell phone or mobile electronic device in “hands-free” or “voice-operated” mode or if your phone is “placed in a mount,” then the prohibition above does not apply. (HB 4250)
- In other words, if you’re using your cell phone or mobile electronic device in “hands-free” or “voice-operated” mode or if your phone is “placed in a mount,” you can lawfully (for purposes of the distracted driving law in MCL 257.602b) text, talk on the phone, watch videos, and go on social media while you’re driving because the new law DOES NOT PROHIBIT IT. (HB 4250)
- NHTSA reports: “Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.” (NHTSA, “Distracted Driving,” https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving )
- Now, imagine how long a driver’s eyes WILL NOT be on the road if he or she is: (1) watching a video; (2) engaging on social media; (3) on Zoom; (4) on Facetime; or (5) on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok Live. Yet that will be legal – or at least it won’t be illegal – under the new distracted driving law.
- Penalties are still pretty low and lenient considering the crash risk involved with distracted driving.
- Drivers who are texting are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
- Drivers who are dialing a handheld cell phone are 12 times more likely to crash, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
- Despite having similarly high crash risks, penalties for distracted driving are negligible compared to the penalties for drunk driving.
- Here are the penalties for drunk driving: (1) Up to 360 hours of community service. (MCL 257.625(9)(a)(i)); (2) Up to 93 days in jail. (MCL 257.625(9)(a)(ii)); (3) Up to $500 in fines. (MCL 257.625(9)(a)(iii)); (4) Up to 180 days of vehicle immobilization. (MCL 257.625(9)(e); 257.904d(1)(a)); (5) 6 points on your driving record. (MCL 257.320a(1)(c)); and (6) Mandatory 180-day driver’s license suspension. (MCL 257.319(8)(a))
- New law expires in 5 years. (HB 4250)
Hewitt said, all in all, this would be a start. He said it is likely that after five years, the state would take a look at statistics to see if the new law curbs distracted driving incidents, and maybe fine tune it at that point. To contact an attorney at Michigan Auto Law, visit www.michiganautolaw.com or call 833-411-MICH.
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