It’s January, so let’s discuss the Michigan cell phone law 2021 and make this the safest year yet. Key takeaways are that it is against the law for any driver in Michigan to text while driving. Talking on the phone while driving is banned only for teens on a driver’s permit, truck drivers and school bus drivers.
As an attorney, I often describe the problem with mobile use and driving as worse than most people can possibly imagine. From my own auto accident and truck accident cases, I see the immense havoc that distracted driving – which includes drivers using social media and streaming movies and television – has in causing completely preventable car crashes.
I am the current Chair of the American Association for Justice Distracted Driving Litigation Group, and I have litigated and worked with plaintiff injury lawyers on horrific truck accident cases around the country on this issue. I’ve worked on cases that have made national news where truckers have been streaming porn while driving! In my own truck accident cases, it is now common to catch serious log book violations and DOT hours of service rules violations by truckers by downloading their mobile phones.
Educating the public about the dangers of distracted driving is the most important step to making our roads safe. Alerting drivers about the Michigan cell phone law 2021 is a good first step.
Let’s strengthen the Michigan cell phone law for teen drivers
I have written a letter to lawmakers in the Michigan House of Representatives urging them to take action on House Bill 4279 to amend Kelsey’s law and strengthen the Michigan cell phone law for teen drivers.
Currently, under Kelsey’s law, teen drivers are prohibited from using a cell phone while driving, but there is a loophole that permits them to use a “voice-operated system.” A violation of Kelsey’s Law is currently a civil infraction that carries no fine or points on the driver’s license.
However, HB 4279 would close the loophole in the Michigan cell phone law by prohibiting all mobile phone use – both hand-held and hands-free – by teen drivers and would allow violations of Kelsey’s Law to be entered on a teen’s “master driving record.”
As I told the Michigan House of Representatives in my letter:
“HB 4279 would rightly eliminate the loophole, thus prohibiting young, novice drivers from all cell phone use (handheld or hands-free) while driving. Young drivers should learn, as soon as possible, the good, safe, responsible driving habits they will be using for the rest of their lives. If we allow them to think that driving while being distracted by a phone conversation is okay when they are learning to drive, then they will never have reason to think otherwise. Driving while using a cell phone is dangerous. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has found that dialing a handheld mobile phone while driving made the driver “12 times more likely to crash” . . . Similarly, the AAA-Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that newly licensed teen drivers are approximately six times more likely to have a serious incident when there was loud conversation in the vehicle.”
(Note: Blog post updated on November 19, 2021)
What is the Michigan cell phone law 2021 on texting while driving?
Below are details about the Michigan cell phone law’s ban on texting while driving, the penalties and exemptions:
- No texting: The general rule with this Michigan cell phone law is that all drivers in Michigan are prohibited from texting while driving. That means that a driver “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 in the person’s 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 this state.” (MCL 257.602b(1)) This ban on hand-held texting while driving applies to all drivers, including truck drivers and school bus drivers. (MCL 257.602b(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 (so long they are not truck drivers or school bus drivers). (MCL 257.602b(6); 257.320a(2))
- Exemption for automated motor vehicle networks: Michigan’s ban on texting while driving does not apply to people who are using an “on-demand automated motor vehicle network,” which is effectively a driverless car. (MCL 257.602b(5); 257.2b(1), (2) and (8))
- Exemption for hands free texting: Although the Michigan cell phone law 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.
Does the Michigan cell phone law prohibit drivers from using a cell phone while driving?
The Michigan cell phone law does not generally prohibit licensed adult drivers from talking and making calls on a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone while driving. (MCL 257.602b(1))
However, truck drivers, school bus drivers and teen drivers with Level 1 or 2 graduated licensing status are prohibited from using a mobile phone while driving. (MCL 257.602b(3); 257.602c(1)).
How does the Michigan cell phone law apply to truck drivers and school bus drivers?
Like all drivers in Michigan, truck drivers and school bus drivers are prohibited from texting while driving. (MCL 257.602b(2)) However, unlike other licensed adult drivers in Michigan, truck drivers and school bus drivers are prohibited from talking, dialing or answering a mobile phone while driving. (MCL 257.602b(3))
The Michigan cell phone law specifically provides that truck drivers and school bus drivers cannot use “a hand-held mobile telephone to conduct a voice communication while [driving] on a highway, including while temporarily stationary due to traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays.” (MCL 257.602b(3))
The law explains that “use” means either “[u]sing at least 1 hand to hold a mobile telephone to conduct a voice communication” or “[d]ialing or answering a mobile telephone by pressing more than a single button” or “[r]eaching for a mobile telephone in a manner that requires a driver to maneuver so that he or she is no longer in a seated driving position.” (MCL 257.602b(3)(a-c))
How does the Michigan cell phone law apply to teen drivers?
Like all drivers in Michigan, teen drivers are prohibited from texting while driving. (MCL 257.602b(2)) However, teen drivers with a Level 1 or Level 2 graduated licensing status are prohibited from using “a cellular telephone while operating a motor vehicle upon a highway or street.” (MCL 257.602c(1))
The law which is called Kelsey’s Law describes “use” as initiating a call, answering a call or listening or engaging “in verbal communication through the cellular telephone.” (MCL 257.602c(1))
It is important to note that the mobile phone use prohibitions in Kelsey’s Law do not apply to teen drivers who are “using a voice-operated system that is integrated into the motor vehicle.” (MCL 257.602c(3))
Violation of Kelsey’s Law renders the teen driver “responsible for a civil infraction.” (MCL 257.602c(4)) However, there is no fine and 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 the teen’s graduated licensing status “shall be expanded or extended” for a Kelsey’s Law violation. (MCL 257.310e(7))
Kelsey’s law, which makes it illegal for teen drivers to use a cell phone while driving, was passed to honor Kelsey Raffaele, 17, of Sault Ste. Marie, who tragically died in a cell phone-related automobile crash in 2010. In response to her family’s tragedy, Kelsey’s mother Bonnie Raffaele 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.
Through Michigan Auto Law’s ongoing partnership with Bonnie to raise awareness about distractions facing young drivers, we offer the Kelsey’s Law Distracted Driving Scholarship every year which is open to Michigan high school seniors and juniors.
IMPORTANT: There is no law equivalent to Kelsey’s Law that applies to licensed adult drivers.
No new Michigan cell phone law has been passed – yet
The Michigan legislature has looked at enacting legislation to prohibit hand-held use of mobile phones, but no new Michigan cell phone law has been passed. I’ve submitted comments to the legislature on this issue on behalf of the Michigan Association for Justice, but as of now there have been no changes to Michigan’s existing laws concerning texting and mobile use while driving. The science is clear that hand-held use is just as dangerous, but for now this remains legal in Michigan.
In August 2019, a Minnesota law took effect that prohibited hand-held use of mobile phones while driving. Some people on social media erroneously mixed this up, confusing Minnesota for Michigan. As a result, there is still some information online that has spread wrong and inaccurate information regarding hand-held mobile phone use in Michigan.
Is there a hands free law in Michigan?
The Michigan cell phone law does not include what people commonly refer to as a “hands free law.” These laws prohibit hand-held use of a mobile device while driving, but they allow drivers to use mobile devices that are affixed or mounted or installed within the driver’s motor vehicle so long as the mobile devices can be used on a “hands free” basis.
Mobile phone related car accident statistics
In 2019, the mobile phone related car accident statistics showed that there were 2,798 automobile crashes in Michigan, involving 2,782 drivers. Fifteen of the crashes were fatal.
Here are the dangerous trends involving distracted driving and mobile phone use trends:
- Mobile phone use-related car accidents increased approximately 48% between 2016 and 2019 in Michigan
- The number of drivers involved in mobile phone use-related motor vehicle crashes increased approximately 47% between 2016 and 2019 in Michigan
- Fatal mobile phone use-related motor vehicle crashes increased approximately 87.5% between 2016 and 2019 in Michigan
- In 2019, 18.5% of the drivers involved in mobile phone use-related motor vehicle crashes in Michigan were “20 years of age or younger.”
The dangers of distracted driving
The underlying science is sadly quite clear and unrefuted about the dangers of distracted driving that the Michigan cell phone law strives to prevent: combat:
- “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 mobile 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 mobile phone tasks”; and (2) “visual-manual mobile 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.
Need help finding the right lawyer? Call Michigan Auto Law first
If you have suffered a personal injury in a car accident caused by someone who violated the Michigan cell phone law and you would like to speak with an experienced attorney, call toll free anytime 24/7 at (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our attorneys. You can also get help from an experienced accident attorney by visiting our contact page or you can use the chat feature on our website. 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.
(Source: Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, Fact Sheets, Cell Phone Use, 2019)