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Michigan Cell Phone Law 2020: What You Need To Know

January 16, 2020 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan Cell Phone Law 2020: What You Need To Know
Hands Free Michigan initiative press conference at the Detroit Athletic Club: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (left); Jennifer Smith of StopDistractions.org, Ron Raffaele, Bonnie Raffaele – Kelsey’s Law Sponsor and Hands Free Activist, and Michigan Auto Law attorney Brandon Hewitt (right, top); Bonnie Raffaele (right, bottom).

The Michigan cell phone law 2020 is back in the news.

At a January 9th, 2020, press conference in Detroit to promote the Hands Free Michigan initiative, safety advocates Bonnie Raffaele and StopDistractions.org’s founder Jennifer Smith urged lawmakers to strengthen the Michigan cell phone law.

The event was organized to show support for amending Kelsey’s Law to make it apply more broadly to include hands-free as well as hand-held cell phone use. Kelsey’s law currently makes it illegal for teen drivers to use a cell phone while driving. But the ban does not apply if they’re using a “voice-operated system that is integrated” into their vehicle.

Bonnie Raffaele’s daughter Kelsey died in a 2010 cell phone-related car crash. In response to her family’s tragedy, Bonnie almost single-handedly worked to obtain the passage of the Michigan cell phone law designed for teen drivers known as Kelsey’s Law in 2013.

Passionately and eloquently telling the gathered audience, which included Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Bonnie said:

“We have to have a hands free bill — for everyone. Give us some peace of mind, give me some peace of mind.”

Bonnie and other safety advocates continue to champion for stricter Michigan cell phone laws and to spread awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.

Through Michigan Auto Law’s ongoing partnership with Bonnie to raise awareness about distractions facing young drivers, our Kelsey’s Law Distracted Driving Scholarship is open to Michigan high school seniors and juniors.

In her remarks, Ms. Smith noted how the dangers of distracted driving are “no longer limited to texting and talking while driving.” Instead, she explained, those dangers have “expanded to social medial and streaming services.”

Both Bonnie Rafaelle and Jennifer Smith are 100% right. The science is clear:

  • “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.

In both 2017 and 2018, 20% of the “motor vehicle drivers using cell phones” who were involved in Michigan car crashes were “20 years of age or younger.” (Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, Fact Sheet, Cell Phone Use, 2017 and 2018)

As an attorney and looking at my own auto accident and truck accident cases, I see regular evidence of the immense havoc that distracted driving – including social media and streaming movies and television – has in causing preventable crashes. I have litigated and worked with lawyers on horrific truck accident cases where truckers have been watching streaming movies – while driving! More than once I’ve noted very serious DOT hours of service rules violations and fatigue issues with truckers who are streaming movies or watching social media.

Today, I want to talk about the bills that are currently pending in the Legislature, answer the questions most frequently asked about the Michigan cell phone law and give a run-down of where the law currently stands.

How do lawmakers want to change the Michigan cell phone law?

There are three bills currently pending in the Michigan House of Representatives that would strengthen the current Michigan cell phone law – specifically both Kelsey’s Law and Michigan’s texting ban. The details of these pending bills is as follows:

  • House Bill 4181: This bill, which focuses exclusively on making changes to Kelsey’s Law (MCL 257.602c), was passed by the full House on a 87 to 21 vote on December 11, 2019. It proposes to: (1) Clarify that Michigan’s ban on texting while driving applies to teen drivers who have level 1 or level graduated licenses; (2) Extend Kelsey’s Law’s prohibitions on cell phone use while driving to drivers who are “under the age of 18”; and (3) Eliminate the existing hands-free exception that allows teen drivers to use “voice-operated” phone systems that are “integrated into the motor vehicle.”
  • House Bill 4198: The version of this bill that was reported out of the House Ways and Means Committee on December 5, 2019 (but has not gone to the full House for a vote) would broaden the Michigan cell phone law in regards to Michigan’s anti-texting law (as set forth in MCL 257.602b). Under the bill, a driver could not “digitally communicate using a mobile electronic device that is located in [his or her] hand or . . . lap.” The bill provides that “digitally communicate” includes writing/sending/or reading text messages, mobile gaming, going on social media and watching videos. Significantly, the bill states that “[d]igitally communicate” does not include “hands free interaction” or “voice communication.” Additionally, a “mobile electronic device” would include both a “mobile telephone” and “a computer.”
  • House Bill 4199: This bill would change the current Michigan cell phone law by increasing the fines for violating Michigan’s anti-texting law from $100 to $250 for first offenses and from $200 to $500 for second or subsequent offenses.

Was there a Michigan cell phone law passed in August 2019?

No. A Michigan cell phone law was not passed in August 2019.

However, Minnesota’s new law that prohibits hand-held use of cell phones while driving did take effect on August 1, 2019. Some people on social media erroneously mixed this up, confusing Minnesota for Michigan. As a result, they temporarily spread wrong and inaccurate information.

Is there a new Michigan cell phone law?

No. There is not a new Michigan cell phone law. Lawmakers have proposed changes to Kelsey’s Law and to the ban on texting while driving. Those proposals are still pending in the Michigan Legislature. There has been no official change to Michigan’s existing laws concerning texting and cell phone use while driving.

Did a Michigan hands free law pass?

No. Michigan has not passed what people commonly refer to as a “Michigan hands free law,” which is one that bans all hand-held use of a cell phone while driving, but allows drivers to use phones that allow hands free interaction and/or are voice-operated.

Is there a Michigan hands free law?

As of now, there is not a conventional Michigan hands free law that bans all hand-held use of cell phones while driving, but allows hands free use.

However, as I discuss below, there is an argument to expand the current Michigan cell phone law so that Michigan’s anti-texting law has a “hands free” exception in that the prohibition on texting while driving appears to only apply when the texting device is in a person’s hand or lap. The prohibition does not address hands free or voice-operated texting devices and/or devices that are affixed or mounted or installed within the driver’s motor vehicle.

Similarly, under the existing Kelsey’s Law, the prohibition against teen drivers using a cell phone while driving does not appear to apply if the teen driver is using a “hands free” phone. Specifically, the law exempts use of “a voice-operated system that is integrated into the motor vehicle” from its prohibition.

What is the current Michigan cell phone law on texting while driving?

  • No texting: The general rule with this Michigan cell phone law is that Michigan’s ban on texting while driving prohibits all drivers from texting while driving. That means drivers may “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.” (MCL 257.602b(1) and (2))
  • Penalties for texting: Given the undeniable danger created by texting while driving, the penalties for violating the texting ban are negligible at best: (1) Civil infraction; (2) $100 fine for first offense; (3) $200 fine for second offense; and (4) no points on a person’s driver’s license. (MCL 257.602b(6); 257.320a(2))
  • Hands free texting: A significant caveat to the general rule is that, although it 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.

What is the Michigan cell phone law for teen drivers?

  • No cell phone usage: Under Kelsey’s Law, teen drivers with a level 1 or level 2 graduated license are prohibited from using a cell phone while driving. Importantly, the cell phone “use” that is prohibited by Kelsey’s Law includes: (1) initiating a call; (2) answering a call; and/or (3) listening to or engaging “in verbal communication through the cellular telephone.” (MCL 257.602c(1)) IMPORTANT: Kelsey’s Law only applies to teen drivers. No similar law applies to adult drivers in Michigan.
  • Penalties for violating Kelsey’s Law: The only penalty for a violation of Kelsey’s Law is being deemed “responsible for a civil infraction.” (MCL 257.602c(4)) No points will be assigned to the teen driver’s future driver’s license. (MCL 257.320a(2)) At most, the “provisions and provisional period” of his or her graduated licensing status “shall be expanded or extended” if the teen driver is determined to have violated Kelsey’s Law. (MCL 257.310e(7))
  • Hands free cell phone use: The ban on teen drivers’ cell phone use while driving has a “hands free” exception which allows teen drivers to use “a voice-operated system that is integrated into the motor vehicle.” (MCL 257.602c(3))

Can You Use Your Cell Phone While Driving in Michigan?

The Michigan cell phone law prohibits all drivers from using a hand-held cell phone to text while driving. But there is nothing in the existing law that prevents licensed drivers from talking and making calls on a hand-held or hands-free cell phone while driving. (MCL 257.602b(1) and (2))

Important Caveats To Using Your Cell Phone While Driving in Michigan

  • Michigan cell phone law prohibits truck drivers and school bus drivers from using “a hand-held mobile telephone” to talk and make calls while driving a “commercial motor vehicle or a school bus.” (MCL 257.602b(3))
  • Kelsey’s Law in Michigan prohibits a teen driver on a level 1 or level 2 graduated license from using a hand-held cell phone to talk and make calls while driving. (MCL 257.602c(1)) However, Kelsey’s Law does not apply if the cell phone is “a voice-operated system that is integrated into the motor vehicle.” (MCL 257.602c(3))

**Steven Gursten is the current President of the American Association for Justice Distracted Driving Litigation Group. He lectures and teaches auto accident attorneys throughout the nation on what distracted driving is and on how to obtain evidence of distracted driving in their own cases. Steve also has spoken at national webinars on the subject of distracted driving evidence and discovery and speaks to student and parent groups throughout Michigan as part of Joel Feldman’s End Distracted Driving Campaign school and parent presentations.

Michigan Cell Phone Law 2020. Find out what you need to know by visiting our blog!

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