Michigan House Passes Law to Penalize Distracted Drivers

Lawmakers in the state capital are cracking down on distracted drivers with a package of bills headed for approval in the Michigan senate that would penalize those who use cellphones and other technologies while operating a motor vehicle.

The package of bills (HBs 4277, 4278 and 4279) would address several items, including banning the use of handheld devices along with social media and video streaming.

Michigan already has a distracted driving law that only addresses texting and driving and talking on the phone. Other areas targeting distracted drivers focuses on items such as eating, drinking, smoking and playing music too loudly while driving.

Michigan lawmakers now believe that the 2010 law is not enough, as other technologies have become increasingly popular since that measure was passed and last updated in 2016.

What the new bills mean:

  • House Bill 4277 – Passed in the House on a 75 to 26 vote, it would prohibit drivers from using a “mobile electronic device” such as a cell phone while driving, unless the driver can use the phone in “a voice-operated or hands-free mode” that does not require the driver to use their hands to operate the phone. It also prohibits a driver from “accessing, reading, or posting to a social networking site” and/or “viewing, recording, or transmitting a video on a mobile electronic device” while driving. The bill continues to ban drivers from using a hand-held phone to text while driving.
  • House Bill 4278 – Passed in the House on a vote of 76 to 25, it would impose 1 point on a driver’s license for a second violation of the new Michigan cell phone law and 2 points for a third or subsequent violation.
  • House Bill 4279 – Passed in the House on a 76 to 25 vote, would amend Kelsey’s Law to state that teen drivers are banned from all use of a cell phone while driving – whether the phone is in hands-free or voice-operated mode. The bill would also provide that the new Michigan cell phone law also applied to teen drivers.

The new measure would only allow hands-free use of cell phones while driving.

The bills will not become law unless the legislation also passes the Michigan Senate and is then signed by Gov. Whitmer.

Michigan’s current distracted driving law focuses mostly on texting: 

  • 2010 Bill: Prohibits drivers from texting while driving. That means that a driver “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.” This ban on hand-held texting while driving applies to all drivers, including truck drivers and school bus drivers.
  • Penalties for texting: The current penalties for violating the texting ban are a civil infraction citation; (1) $100 fine for first offense; (2) $200 fine for second offense and beyond. The offenses do not currently result in any points on a driver’s license.
  • Exemption for hands free texting: Although the Michigan cell phone law prohibits drivers from texting from a phone in their hand or lap, it does not prohibit texting from a hands free device, such as a voice-operated system.

Why is Michigan cracking down on distracted drivers now?

The data makes it clear. Distracted driving related accidents have reached an all-time high, according to a 2019 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • Distracted driving crashes killed 3,142 people in the United States – an average of 9 deaths per day.
  • That number was up 10 percent from the year before (2,839 deaths in 2018).
  • In Michigan alone, there were 64 fatal crashes involving a distracted driver, resulting in 71 fatalities in 2019.

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