New law allows drivers to use cell phone or other ‘electronic device’ to show proof of auto insurance; limits police authority to search
I write often about the dangers of cell phones and distracted driving. But it turns out that having a cell phone nearby while we’re driving may not be so bad after all – especially if you’ve been stopped by a police officer who wants to see your proof of auto insurance.
Under a new law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on October 6, 2015, a driver can use his or her cell phone or other “electronic device” to prove that his or her vehicle is covered by a valid No Fault auto insurance policy. The new law, which was introduced as House Bill 4193 by Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), but became Public Act 135 of 2015 upon approval by the Governor provides:
“A certificate of insurance, in paper or electronic form and issued by an insurance company, that certifies that [a valid No Fault auto insurance policy for the vehicle in question] is in force is prima facie evidence that insurance is in force for the motor vehicle described in the certificate …”
Under Michigan law, “upon the request of a police officer,” a driver “shall produce … evidence that the motor vehicle” he or she is driving “is insured” as required by Michigan’s No Fault auto insurance law. (MCL 257.328(1))
In a blog post on the Michigan House Republicans website, Rep. Nesbitt is quoted as saying:
“‘While this new law enables drivers to use modern technology to prove they are covered by insurance, the primary goal is to make our roads and highways safer for families’” by “identifying and reducing the number of uninsured drivers, thus cutting down on insurance fraud.”
As I’ve made clear repeatedly in many blog posts, I believe the use of cell phones for texting, talking or other distracting activities while driving is dangerous and puts all drivers at risk of serious injury or worse. But hopefully, this new law will – as Rep. Nesbitt has stated – help the police more effectively identify uninsured drivers and get them off the road. And maybe, it will somehow motivate more drivers to get insured.
‘Electronic’ proof of insurance
The new law makes clear that a driver can produce proof of auto insurance in an “electronic form” by “display[ing] an electronic copy of his or her certificate of insurance using an electronic device …”
Unfortunately, the new law doesn’t define “electronic device.”
Nevertheless, the blog post on the Michigan House Republicans website suggests that “a smartphone” should qualify.
Additionally, in its March 24, 2015, Legislative Analysis, the House Fiscal Agency notes that, under the new law (then HB 4193), a driver could “show proof of insurance to a police officer electronically – on a cell phone or tablet, for example …”
Notably, a driver’s proof of insurance, whether “in paper or electronic form,” must, “in addition to describing the motor vehicles for which insurance is in effect, … state the name of each person named on the policy, policy declaration, or a declaration certificate whose operation of the vehicle would cause the liability coverage of that insurance to become void.” (MCL 257.328(2))
Displaying proof of No Fault auto insurance in ‘electronic form’
To address safety concerns raised by the police during deliberation of the new law, the following provision was included:
“A police officer may require the person to electronically forward the electronic copy of the certificate of insurance to a specified location provided by the police officer. The police officer may then view the electronic copy of the certificate of insurance in a setting in which it is safe for the officer to verify that the information contained in the electronic copy of the certificate of insurance is valid and accurate.”
To alleviate fears that the use of a cell phone or other “electronic device” to show proof of insurance might “open up” drivers to police searches, the new law states:
“If a person displays an electronic copy of his or her certificate of insurance using an electronic device, the police officer shall only view the electronic copy of the certificate of insurance and shall not manipulate the electronic device to view any other information on the electronic device. A person who displays an electronic copy of his or her certificate of insurance using an electronic device as provided in this subsection shall not be presumed to have consented to a search of the electronic device.”
Under the new law, failure to produce proof of insurance is still a “civil infraction,” which could result in a driver’s license suspension. (MCL 257.328(1), (3-5)) The new “proof of insurance” law is expected to “take effect 90 days after the date it is enacted into law.”