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Michigan legislature takes up a trio of bills meant to curb distracted driving

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, an opportunity to draw attention to the dangers that clearly exist when we drive while using the cell phone.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, an opportunity to draw attention to the dangers that clearly exist when we drive while using the cell phone. 

According to a 2009 study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, text messaging made the risk of crash or near-crash event 23.2 times as high as non-distracted driving. 

In addition, dialing a handheld cell phone” while driving made the driver “12 times more likely to crash. According to attorney Brandon Hewitt from Michigan Auto Law. Michigan has its own set of distracted driving statistics. 

Hewitt cites statistics compiled by the State of Michigan that find cell phone use-related motor vehicle crashes increased approximately 48% between 2016 and 2019 in Michigan, and fatal cell phone use-related motor vehicle crashes increased approximately 87.5% in Michigan during that same period. 

Hewitt referenced Michigan Case Law that prohibits all drivers from texting while driving. 

(MCL 257.602b(1)) This ban on hand-held texting while driving applies to all drivers, including truck drivers and school bus drivers. (MCL 257.602b(2)). Penalties can include (1) Civil infraction; (2) $100 fine for first offense; (3) $200 fine for second offense; and (4) no points on a person’s driver’s license (so long they are not truck drivers or school bus drivers); and (5) the “abstract” of a “civil infraction determination” for a texting-while-driving cannot be entered on the driver’s “master driving record.” 

(MCL 257.602b(6); 257.320a(2); 257.732(1), (15), (16)(i)) There is an exception for hands-free texting while driving. Although the Michigan cell phone law prohibits drivers from texting while using “a wireless 2-way communication device that is located in the person’s hand or in the person’s lap,” the law does not prohibit (nor specifically allow) texting from a hands-free device, such as a voice-operated system. (MCL 257.602b(1)). 

Hewitt makes it clear, Michigan law does NOT currently ban cell phone use by all drivers. However, it does prohibit truck drivers, school bus drivers and teen drivers with Level 1 or 2 graduated licensing statuses from using a cell phone while driving. (MCL 257.602b(3); 257.602c(1))

Michigan State Representative Mari Manoogian is working on three proposed bills that would change Michigan’s distracted driving laws and they would do the following:

  • No using a mobile electronic device while driving: A “person shall not use a mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle or a school bus.” (HB 4277, amending MCL 257.602b(1)) This broadly-worded prohibition presumably encompasses texting and using a cell phone as well as other activities such as engaging on social media and watching videos.
  • Hands-free exception: The ban on using a mobile electronic device while driving does not apply if the device is used in “a voice-operated or hands-free mode.”
  • No headphones/earphones: Drivers of motor vehicles and school buses cannot drive while wearing headphones or earphones in “both ears simultaneously for the purposes of listening to music, video or other sound broadcasts.”
  • No social media: Drivers of motor vehicles and school buses cannot drive “while accessing, reading, or posting to a social networking site.”
  • No videos: Drivers of motor vehicles and school buses cannot drive “while viewing, recording, or transmitting a video on a mobile electronic device.”
  • Penalties for violating the ban on using mobile electronic devices while driving: (1) civil infraction; (2) $100 fine or 16 hours of community service for first violation; (3) $250 fine or 24 hours of community service or both; (4) fines are doubled if the violation involved an accident; (5) the police must note in the crash report that you were using a mobile electronic device at the time of the accident; (6) 3 violations in 3 years could result in a license suspension; (7) 1 point on a person’s license for a second violation; (8) 2 points on a person’s license for a second violation; and (9) the “abstract” of a “civil infraction determination” for a violation would be entered on a driver’s “master driving record.” [HB 4277, 4278, and 4279]
  • Primary offense: Violation of the ban on using a mobile electronic device while driving can be treated by the police “as the primary or sole reason for issuing a citation to the driver.”
  • Mobile electronic device: This encompasses devices such as: (1) cell phone; (2) “text messaging device”; (3) “electronic device that . . . connect to the internet”; (4) “laptop computer”; (5) “computer tablet”; (6) electronic game; (7) “equipment that is capable of playing a video, taking photographs, capturing images, or recording or transmitting video.”
  • Driving: Driving for purposes of the ban on using a mobile electronic device while driving includes operating a vehicle “while temporarily stationary because of traffic, road conditions, a traffic light, or a stop sign.”

Rep. Manoogian said the bills are currently being worked on in committee and she is optimistic about their ultimate passage. In the meantime, Brandon Hewitt wants all drivers to know, getting behind the wheel and having that cell phone in your hand can have deadly consequences.

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