Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a law on June 3 making it illegal to use a cell phone or other mobile electronic device while operating a vehicle on Michigan roads.
Under this distracted driving law, a driver may not hold or support a phone or other device with any part of their hands, arms, or shoulders.
The new distracted driving law went into effect Friday, June 30, according to a release from the Michigan State Police (MSP).
According to the MSP website, even if a cell phone or other device is mounted on your dashboard or connected to your vehicle’s onboard system, you can’t use your hands to operate it beyond a single touch.
As a result, while driving, a driver cannot do the following manually on a mobile phone or other electronic device:
• Make or answer a phone or video call.
• Send or read a text or e-mail message.
• Watch, record or send a video.
• Access, read or post on social media.
• Surfing or internet.
• Enter information into GPS or a navigation system.
Trooper Alan Narhi, of the MSP Calumet Post, said the new law updates an earlier law on distracted drivers that allowed law enforcement to take limited action in relation to drivers who were distracted by mobile phone use. The law that went into effect on Friday is much easier to enforce.
The previous law entered into force on 1 July 2010.
“The previous law relied a lot on public cooperation,” said Narhi. “This law is essentially for Michigan to become a hands-free state. In other words, you are not allowed to have any electronic device in your possession while you are driving.”
The new law gives officers more freedom and therefore more authority in determining distracted driving. Under the previous law, Narhi said, distracted driving with a cell phone was restricted to sending, reading or receiving a text message, Narhi said.
“You could do anything you want on your phone, and we wouldn’t have a clue until we talk to you.”
It also makes it what’s called a primary offense, Narhi said, meaning enforcement is based solely on an officer’s observations.
There are exceptions to that, Narhi said. For example, if a driver needs to call 911 to report an emergency, an accident, traffic hazard, or a reckless driver, cell phone use is allowed.
“You can communicate on your phone if you can do it hands-free,” he explained.
While the updated law states that a driver cannot operate a cell phone or other device with a single touch, Narhi said most phones today have voice commands.
“If you use voice commands to your phone, that’s okay,” he said. While it is allowed to use a GPS device while driving, typing destinations or coordinates into a device while driving is not allowed.
In defining distracted driving and what the law is aimed at, Narhi gave an example he witnessed while responding to a car crash near Lake Annie Road in Franklin Township last Friday morning:
While at the scene of the accident directing traffic, he witnessed more than one motorist pass by, pointing his phone out the side window of their vehicle and taking pictures of the crash.
It is that kind of carelessness that the new law aims to curb.
According to a Michigan.gov, 2020 fact sheet dated April 7, 2022, 5.8% of accidents in Michigan involved a distracted driver. In 2020, there were 14,236 motor vehicle accidents involving a distracted driver, and 48 of those accidents were fatal. A year later, that number had risen to 16,543 accidents, 59 of which were fatal.
Distracted driving law is not limited to cell phone use, according to Michigan.gov, but also includes eating, drinking, smoking, caring for children or pets, searching for or reaching for an item while driving, including adjusting climate or music controls and listening to loud music.
“What Those Mean,” said Narhi, “is that these are distractions that can occur in a vehicle. These are dangers that can cause distraction.”
Penalties for breaking the new law are:
• 1st offense: $100 fine and/or 16 hours of community service.
• 2nd or subsequent violations: $250 fine and/or 24 hours community service.
• 3 offenses within a 3-year period — Complete a driving proficiency course.
• Fines Doubled — If a traffic accident occurs and the offending driver held or manually operated a mobile device while driving the vehicle, any civil fines will be doubled.