LANSING-Michigan drivers who use a cellphone behind wheels will now face penalties effective June 30, following a legislation signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer earlier this month aimed at preventing distracted driving and making Michigan’s roads safer.
Michigan follows the path of 25 other states who have passed similar measures in recent years following a spike in car accidents and fatalities as shown by data released in 2020 and 2021.
“Each traffic death is more than just a statistic,” Whitmer said at a press conference before signing the measure into law. “It’s a human being person with a story and a family, a life cut short.”
The law entails hefty penalties for drivers who are caught using a cellphone while operating a vehicle. And the fines become even greater for those who are repeat offenders.
Michigan drivers who hold or use an electronic mobile device while operating a motor vehicle could face up to a $100 penalty for a first offense. Within three years, a second offense could be an up-to-$250 penalty and a third would be an up-to-$250 penalty plus a requirement to take a driver’s safety refreshment course.
The law doesn’t apply to hands-free Bluetooth devices. Motorists from states without hands-free driving laws will be expected to abide by the law while traveling in Michigan. An education campaign has begun that will add road signage and public service announcements to help spread the word.
Michigan’s law banning handheld cellphone use mirrors a similar prohibition that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law in January. Ohio’s ban resulted in a 9% decrease in distracted driving during the first month it went into effect, according to a study by Cambridge Mobile Telematics.
Whitmer said the legislation in particular affects young drivers, who make up 5.3% of the driving population but account for 8% of fatal crashes.
Michigan has experienced over 350 traffic deaths so far in 2023. Memorial Day weekend marked the start of the 100 deadliest days on the road, according to AAA Michigan. The summertime months continue to traditionally be the most dangerous months for drivers.
Governor Whitmer signed House Bills 4250, 4251, and 4252 which were sponsored by state Representatives Matt Koleszar, Tyrone Carter, and Mike Mueller. In the Senate, state Senator Paul Wojno sponsored companion Senate Bills 239 and 240 and state Senator Kevin Hertel sponsored Senate Bill 241.
House Bill 4250 updates Michigan’s distracted driving laws, which currently includes texting and driving, to also include watching or recording videos and engaging in social media, among other usages. The new law would allow drivers to take advantage of new voice-operated or hands-free technology if they need to use cell phone functions. The bill also allows a court to order drivers to complete a basic driver improvement course if they are found responsible for three or more civil infractions within a three-year period and updates fines for infractions.
House Bill 4251 provides accountability for drivers who put themselves and others in danger by making related changes regarding commercial vehicles, driving record points, and driver improvement courses.
House Bill 4252 requires the Michigan State Police (MSP) to submit a progress report on the effectiveness of the new law 3.5 years after it takes effect.
In 2021, the last year with available annual data, there were 2,765 vehicle crashes where cellphone use was a factor, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning. Twenty-one of those crashes were fatal.
Data released earlier this year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that in 2021 there was a 12% rise in fatal crashes involving at least one distracted driver, with 3,522 people killed
Law enforcement, first responders and other public emergency workers will still be allowed to use a cellphone while performing official duties. Anyone calling or texting 911 or other emergency services will also be exempt from the law.
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