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Is using my Bluetooth illegal with Michigan's new texting while driving ban?

Attorney boils down the Michigan anti-texting law so you can stay safe – and avoid being ticketed

Our auto accident attorneys received a great inquiry in response to a blog answering common questions on Michigan’s new texting while driving ban.

The reader, “Stogie” (hey, some people have more interesting e-mail names than others) asked: I have a cell phone (Verizon Droid Incredible) that has the ability of voice-activated texting… hands free… I can talk into my Bluetooth/hands free device and the phone will convert my words into text. It’s the easiest way for me to text and I use the feature all the time. Is it legal to send a text message using hands free methods while driving?

It’s a good question, and as one of the missions of this blog is to protect Michigan drivers, I wanted to answer it here. I asked our law clerk, Nick Kyriakopoulos, to research the new texting law and this is what we found.

Michigan’s anti-texting law

Here’s the pertinent information from the statute, MCL 257.602b:

(1) A person 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 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 Michigan. A wireless 2-way communication device does not include a global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the motor vehicle.

(2) Subsection (1) The above does not apply to an individual who is using a device to do any of the
(a) Report a traffic accident, medical emergency or serious road hazard.
(b) Report a situation in which the person believes his or her personal safety is in jeopardy.
(c) Report or avert the perpetration or potential perpetration of a criminal act against the individual or another person.
(d) Carry out official duties as a police officer, law enforcement official, member of a paid or volunteer fire department or operator of an emergency vehicle.

You can text hands-free using your Bluetooth, but…

Nick and I believe that the statute’s operative language, as it relates to voice-activated texting, is the location of the device and whether it is “in the person’s hand or in the person’s lap.”

Remember the rationale behind the law is based on studies by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute showing just how dangerous texting while driving a car really is. These studies found that “sending and receiving text messages is by far the riskiest behavior, because it diverts the driver’s attention from the road for extended periods of time. A driver sending a text message may have his or her eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds over a six-second period, and is 23.2 times more likely to be in a car accident than while not distracted.”

With this rationale in mind, our best guess is that a device not located in one’s hand or lap, capable of sending text messages that are not “manually” typed, should be permitted by the statute. Because one’s eyes would not leave the road and distract a driver’s attention, texting in such a way would not disobey the behavior which the statute seeks to promote.

I assume that if you have a Bluetooth to create and send texts, and this Bluetooth is also hands free, this would not violate the texting while driving ban.

However, as an attorney who has handled far too many preventable car accidents at the hands of distracted driving, I believe that even texting in such a way is still problematic and dangerous. A person using the Bluetooth that can create/send texts hands-free would, I assume, read those text messages at some point. And if it’s done while driving, it raises all the same issues about distraction and impaired reaction time. And, more likely, reading those texts would be with your phone in hand.

This would violate the statute (“a person shall not read…a text message…[on a device] located in the person’s hand…while operating a motor vehicle that is moving”).

So just because the minutiae of the texting law may arguably allow a person to use a phone that can create and send texts hands-free, and remember folks, there is nothing yet directly on point on this, I still don’t think it’s a good idea for Michigan drivers. It’s still distracted driving.

So there’s the rub: there is probably a loophole. But as I always advise my loved ones and clients, it’s better to play it safe and put the phone down when you’re driving. That text can wait. You will most definitely be helping make our roads and highways in metro Detroit much safer.

Steven M. Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys in serious car and truck accident personal injury cases and auto insurance No-Fault litigation. He writes extensively about distracted driving and auto accident law. Michigan Auto Law has received the largest reported jury verdict for an auto accident case in Michigan in seven of the past 10 years, including 2009, according to published reports.

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Michigan Auto Law is the leading and largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with an auto accident attorney – anytime. We can help.

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