The Michigan texting and driving law was enacted to stop people from texting while driving. The intent is to discourage drivers from texting to help make our roads safer for everyone.
Sadly, nearly 10 years after the Michigan texting and driving law took effect, we still have our work cut out for us.
Statistics released by the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center in April 2019 (the most up-to-date data available) show that “Michigan saw a 57 percent increase in distracted driving crashes and a 67 percent increase in fatalities from those crashes from 2016 to 2017 . . .”
As a car accident attorney, this is reflected in my own cases. I’ve seen a sharp increase over the last several years in distracted driving and texting while driving. Texting and distracted driving is now the biggest cause behind most of the automobile accidents that I handle.
If you are an attorney and you would like to learn more about how to prove people are violating texting laws, I will also be teaching a nationwide webinar on April 28, 2020 for the American Association for Justice. The webinar will focus on educating car accident lawyers from across the nation on how they can prove distracted driving was a cause in their own auto accident cases. This year I am also the current President of the AAJ Distracted Driving Litigation Group.
Today, I want to review what is required by the Michigan texting and driving law, what the penalties and consequences are for violating the law and how the texting and driving law may apply differently depending on whether a hand-held or hands-free device is being used.
What is the Michigan texting and driving law?
Michigan texting and driving law prohibits all drivers from texting while driving.
Specifically, a driver “shall not read, manually type, or send a text message on a wireless 2-way communication device . . . 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.” (MCL 257.602b(1))
Is texting and driving illegal in Michigan?
Yes. Texting and driving is illegal in Michigan as it is a form of distracted driving that drastically increases the risk of a car crash.
What is the fine for texting and driving in Michigan?
The fine for texting and driving in Michigan is $100 for a first offense and $200 for a second or subsequent offense. A texting driver who is not a truck driver or a school bus driver will incur no points on his or her driver’s license for committing this “civil infraction.” (MCL 257.602b(6); 257.320a(2))
These “penalties” are unfortunately absurdly lenient and wildly disproportionate to the very real dangers posed by texting drivers to everyone else on our roads.
Not only are texting drivers 23 times more likely to cause a car accident than non-texting drivers, but the science shows that texting drivers can be more dangerous and a bigger threat to people on the road than drunk drivers.
Is violating the Michigan texting and driving law a “primary” offense?
Yes. That means that the police can stop a driver solely or primarily for suspected violation of Michigan’s ban on texting while driving.
If texting while driving was not a primary offense, then the statute would say something to the effect that enforcement of the texting ban by the police could only be done as “a secondary action” when the driver was stopped or detained for a suspected violation of a separate traffic law.
Does the Michigan texting and driving law apply to hands-free devices?
No. Based on the statutory language, it appears that the texting and driving law in Michigan does not apply to hands-free cell phones and devices.
Michigan’s texting ban only specifically prohibits drivers from texting from a cell phone or device “that is located in the person’s hand or in the person’s lap.” (MCL 257.602b(1))
Significantly, the Michigan texting and driving law does not address texting that is carried out through the use of a “hands-free” device, a voice-operated system that’s integrated into a person’s car or truck or a device that is otherwise affixed or mounted or installed within a person’s vehicle.
Can a texting driver be sued for causing a car accident?
Yes. If the texting driver caused a car accident resulting in injury or wrongful death, then that texting driver can be sued for causing a car accident. The driver (and owner of the vehicle if it is registered in a different person’s name) can both then be sued in a lawsuit for wrongful death and/or pain and suffering compensation.
This is part of a civil injury lawsuit for ordinary negligence and it would fall within Michigan’s existing auto accident laws. If a person texting with his or her employer, and the employer knows or should know that the person is driving while they are texting, then that employer can also be sued for negligence. There is also at least one case that I have found where a family member who was knowingly texting back and forth with a driver while they were driving was also sued for negligence. This is an area where the case law is quickly developing.
What are the penalties if a driver causes a crash as a result of violating the Michigan texting and driving law?
The Michigan texting and driving law states that the penalties for a texting driver who causes a crash include a criminal conviction, possible jail time, fines and points on his or her driver’s license:
- A texting driver who causes “the death of another person” is guilty of a misdemeanor and could be sent to jail for a year and/or ordered to pay a fine of $2,000. (MCL 257.601d(1))
- A texting driver who causes “serious impairment of a body function to another person” is guilty of a misdemeanor and could be sent to jail for up to 93 day and/or ordered to pay a fine of $500. (MCL 257.601d(2))
- A texting driver who causes “an at-fault collision with another vehicle, a person, or any other object” will get “4 points” on his or her driver’s license. (MCL 257.320a(1)(l))