Most people would not dream of reading a book while driving 65mph or faster on the freeway. Yet, many drivers use their cell phones and other electronic devices in ways that are just as distracting…and potentially deadly. April is national Distracted Driving Awareness Month, so it’s an ideal time to learn more about this deadly epidemic that kills at least 9 people a day and injures more than 1,000. Here is an overview of the Michigan laws regarding cell phones and other driving distractions.
The following distracted driving laws, which are part of the Michigan Vehicle Code, apply to the entire state of Michigan. However, some municipalities have enacted their own laws regarding the use of hand-held cell phones and other distracting activities.
Michigan law prohibits drivers from reading, manually typing, or sending text messages while driving.
A statute known as “Kelsey’s Law” prohibits Level 1 and Level 2 license holders under the Michigan Graduated Driver Licensing Program from using cell phones in any capacity, hand-held or hands-free, while driving.
In addition, school bus drivers and most commercial vehicle operators are prohibited from cell phone use while driving. Voice-operated systems that are integrated into the vehicle are allowed.
However, exceptions to these rules are allowed in certain circumstances. Law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency services personnel are exempt when performing official duties. All other drivers are allowed to use a cell phone to report crashes, crimes, medical emergencies and serious road hazards. Additionally, motorists in situations where their personal safety is at risk may legally use a cell phone.
Finally, a person using an “on-demand automated motor vehicle network,” more commonly known as a “driverless car,” is allowed to text while the vehicle is in motion. While this practice may be legal, traffic safety experts do not recommend it. Even in a driverless vehicle, motorists should pay attention to the road and traffic conditions in case of an unexpected situation that requires manual intervention.
Recommended reading: The Michigan Cell Phone Laws Every Driver Needs to Know
Drivers who are caught texting, reading or manually typing on a cell phone may be fined up to $100 for a first violation. Subsequent offenders may be subject to a $200 maximum fine. Breaking this law does not result in points on the driver’s record. However, commercial and school bus drivers who violate this law may receive two points.
Furthermore, any driver who causes an accident or disobeys a traffic law may be charged with an additional violation such as reckless driving or improper lane use.
The current distracted driving law does not prohibit talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. Nevertheless, doing so is dangerous for several reasons. First, no driver can keep both hands on the steering wheel while holding a cell phone. Therefore, if two hands are required to avoid a car that suddenly swerves or switches lanes, the driver may not be able to react quickly enough to avoid a crash.
In addition, the majority of people are right-handed, which means most drivers hold a cell phone in their left hand so they can keep their dominant hand on the wheel. Doing so can block a driver’s vision and impair the ability to turn the head and look to the left. This is especially dangerous when changing lanes or navigating one of Michigan’s many roundabouts.
Michigan law does not prohibit using cell phones in a hands-free mode. However, multiple studies by the National Safety Council show that using a cell phone in hands-free mode can be as distracting as using a hand-held device. In fact, drivers engaging in hands-free conversations experienced a form of cognitive distraction called “inattention blindness.” This term describes a situation where a person sees but does not process what is in front of them. Consequently, although these drivers were looking at the road, researchers estimate they were actually missing up to 50% of the information in their driving environment.
This is one of the ambiguities in the current Michigan law regarding using a cell phone in a motor vehicle. Texting while driving is definitely outlawed. However, texting while parked or pulled over is permitted. As specified in Section 257.602b of the Michigan Vehicle Code, texting is illegal “while operating a motor vehicle that is moving on a highway or street.”
Further, the law prohibits cell phone use in any form when operating a commercial motor vehicle or school bus, including “while temporarily stationary due to traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays.” However, this caveat is not included in the portion of the statute pertaining to standard motor vehicles.
So, is texting at a red light legal or illegal? While it may not be specifically prohibited, it is definitely not recommended by law enforcement or highway safety experts. For one thing, when a driver is stopped at a red light, especially in an intersection, traffic is still flowing from other directions. Consequently, taking one’s eyes, hands and mind away from the road can be dangerous. Additionally, a driver who is distracted by sending or reading texts may unconsciously take their foot off the brake and cause a rear-end collision or another type of accident.
Surprisingly, Michigan law does not specifically prohibit driving while wearing headphones or earbuds. However, this is another example of an activity that may be legal but is nonetheless dangerous. First, drivers need to be able to hear traffic sounds such as car horns or emergency sirens. Secondly, listening to music, a podcast or carrying on a cell phone conversation causes significant distraction to a driver. These activities are distracting on their own, even hands-free, and using headphones or earbuds further decreases a driver’s ability to concentrate on the road and traffic conditions.
Not necessarily. The basic cell phone laws prohibiting texting, reading or manually typing stated in the Michigan Vehicle Code apply throughout the state. Nonetheless, some municipalities, including Troy, Battle Creek and the City of Detroit, have enacted stricter ordinances prohibiting the use of hand-held cell phones. These jurisdictions are supposed to post notifications at their boundaries to alert motorists to the local laws. However, to be safe and avoid traffic tickets, motorists should always use their cell phones in the hands-free mode regardless of location.
Furthermore, Michigan legislators are currently considering bills that would ban the use of hand-held cell phones and other electronic items throughout the state. In addition, the proposed law expands the list of devices to include smartphones, tablets, electronic games, computers and more.
If you or a loved one was injured in a distracted driving accident, we are ready to help. Our knowledgeable legal team knows what it takes to win your case, and we have the expertise and resources to win the compensation you deserve.
Car accident law is complicated, but finding the right Michigan car accident lawyer is simple.
Get your case started today by filling out the brief form below or calling 1-800-CALL-SAM for a free, no-obligation remote consultation from the safety of your home.
Get The Bernstein Advantage® today!
Free. Simple. Quick.