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New Michigan Distracted Driving Law Proposed

February 25, 2019 by Steven M. Gursten

Bills propose new distracted driving law in Michigan

Lawmakers have proposed a new Michigan distracted driving law to help bring our state up to speed on protecting the public against the dangers created by distracted and texting drivers.

IMPORTANT UPDATE (AUGUST 20, 2019) – DO NOT BELIEVE WHAT YOU SEE ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Michigan law on distracted driving has not changed! Don’t believe reports on social media that Michigan has a new “hands-free” law. Those reports are wrong! It was Minnesota, not Michigan, that recently enacted a “hands-free” law which took effect on August 1, 2019.

It’s about time Michigan consider enacted a distracted driving law. Since our ban on texting while driving was passed in 2010, we have learned a lot more not only about how dangerous texting is, but also how dangerous it is to be looking at, engaging with and talking on our phones while we’re behind the wheel.

This new Michigan distracted driving law legislation – embodied in House Bills 4181, 4198 and 4199 – extends the texting ban to prohibit other forms of driving distractions and increases penalties for drivers who put innocent drivers at risk.

How dangerous is distracted driving that lawmakers are proposing a new Michigan distracted driving law in this state?

  • “Text messaging made the risk of crash or near-crash event 23.2 times as high as non-distracted driving,” according to a 2009 study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
  • The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that “dialing a handheld cell phone” while driving made the driver “12 times more likely to crash.”
  • The AAA-Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that: (1) drivers’ overall crash risk “nearly doubled” when they were “engaging in all forms of visual-manual cell phone tasks”; and (2) “visual-manual cell phone interaction” while driving makes drivers three times more likely to be involved in a “road departure crash” and more than seven times more likely to cause a rear-end collision.

Minnesota, not Michigan, has a new hands-free law

[Updated: August 20, 2019]

Don’t believe the following misleading image and erroneous message and others similar to them that have been making the rounds on social media:

Minnesota, not Michigan, has a new hands-free law to stop distracted driving

Don’t believe these posts because they are wrong! They are not true. They are inaccurate.

Michigan has not enacted a hands-free law. Minnesota has! Starting August 1st, in addition to prohibiting drivers from texting while driving, Minnesota prohibits drivers from hand-held use of their cell phones to talk on the phone, dial a phone, scroll through contacts or messages or enter addresses into a navigation app.

Far from enacting a hands-free law, Michigan’s most current proposals for a new distracted driving law are bogged down in a House Committee where no action has been taken on them since early May. I will discuss this in greater detail below.

What would a new Michigan distracted driving law require?

Under Michigan’s existing ban on texting while driving, drivers are prohibited from reading, typing and/or sending text messages on their phones while driving. (MCL 257.602b(1))

House Bill 4198 would strengthen Michigan distracted driving law by extending the ban to prohibit drivers from using a cell phone or computer while they’re driving to “read, view, manually type, or send an interactive communication, or access, read, or post to a social media site.” The bill defines “interactive communication” as “a text- or image-based communication including, but not limited to, a text message, an instant message, or electronic mail.”

House Bill 4181 proposes to ban drivers from engaging in the following distracting behavior while driving:

  • No using a “mobile electronic device,” which the bill defines “mobile electronic device” to include cell phones, computers, tablets, electronic games, cameras and video devices and “any similar device that is readily removable from a vehicle and is used to write, send, or read text or data or capture images or video through manual input.”
  • No wearing headphones/earphones in both ears
  • No accessing, reading and/or posting to social media
  • No viewing, recording or transmitting a video on a mobile electronic device

What would the penalties be for violating a new Michigan distracted driving law?

Under the existing texting ban, violators are “responsible for a civil infraction” and the fines are $100 for first offenses and $200 for second and subsequent offenses. (MCL 257.602b(6))

Significantly, HB 4181 proposes the following penalties for violating the bill’s distracted driving prohibitions:

  • Civil infraction
  • $100 fine or 16 hours of community service for a first violation
  • $250 fine or 24 hours of community service – or both – for a second or subsequent violation
  • Fines are doubled when a car accident occurs
  • Driver license suspension for three or more violations within a three-year period
  • Second offense results in one point on the driver’s record
  • Third and subsequent offenses result in two points on the driver’s record

Additionally, House Bill 4199 would increase the fines for drivers who text and drive from $100 to $250 for first time violations and from $200 to $500 for second/subsequent violations.

What is the status of the proposed new Michigan distracted driving law?

[Updated: August 20, 2019]

The three bills that comprise the proposals for a new Michigan distracted driving law are House Bills 4181, 4198 and 4199, as discussed above.

All three were introduced in mid-February and assigned to the House Transportation Committee. On May 2, 2019, all three bills were transferred to the House Ways and Means Committee. Along with the transfer, the Transportation Committee recommended that substitutes for the original versions of HB 4181 and HB 4198 be adopted by the House Ways and Means Committee:

  • House Bill 4181 – The H-1 substitute would amend Kelsey’s Law, which prohibits teen drivers with a level 1 or 2 graduated license from using a cell phone while they’re driving, in the following ways: (1) The texting ban in MCL 257.602b would specifically apply to teen drivers; and (2) Kelsey’s Law would apply to drivers under 18 years of age as well as those having level 1 or 2 graduated licenses.
  • House Bill 4198 – The H-5 substitute prohibits drivers from “digitally communicat[ing] using a [hand-held] mobile electronic device” while driving. This means that drivers cannot use a phone or a computer with their hands to engage in “writing, sending, or reading a text-based communication, mobile gaming, viewing or posting on a social networking site, or viewing, capturing, recording, or transmitting a video or photo on a mobile electronic device.” However, this prohibition does not apply to “hands-free interaction, voice communication, or a navigation function.”

No action has been taken on any of the bills by the House Ways and Means Committee.

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