New Michigan bills target phone use while driving: What it would mean

Lawmakers seek to reduce distracted driving with hands-free driving bills

Legislation that would make it illegal to hold and use a cellphone while driving in Michigan passed Tuesday in the state House, and now moves to the Senate.

Michigan representatives on Tuesday, May 2, passed three so-called hands-free driving bills that seek to amend parts of the Michigan Vehicle Code in an effort to reduce distracted driving. The bills -- House bills 4250, 4251, and 4252 -- would modernize existing laws to match today’s technology and better specify what type of mobile device use is prohibited while driving.

Texting while driving is already illegal in Michigan, but that law was instituted years ago, when cellphones and their capabilities were much different. Michigan’s existing vehicle code states, in part, that drivers cannot “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.”

The bills that passed in the House this week seek to make all cellphone usage illegal while driving -- not just texting.

What’s in the new bills

New legislation introduced in April would make any cellphone use that isn’t hands-free illegal, including scrolling, searching, calling, etc.

The language in the bills would amend Michigan law to make it illegal to “use a mobile electronic device to do any task, including, but not limited to” the following:

  • Send or receive a telephone call.
  • Send, receive, or read a text message.
  • View, record, or transmit a video.
  • Access, read, or post to a social networking site.

It would also become illegal to reach for a cellphone or mobile electronic device in a way that requires the driver to maneuver so that they’re no longer “in a seated driving position, restrained by a seat belt.”

The bills passed Tuesday would make holding or using a cellphone while driving a primary offense -- meaning that law enforcement could pull someone over and ticket them for this offense. The new legislation specifically states, however, that police would not be allowed to search a driver solely because of this violation.

The legislation defines holding a cellphone or electronic devise as physically supporting it with “any part of the hands, arms or shoulders.”

“Mobile electronic device” is defined in the legislation as any “electronic device that is not permanently installed in a motor vehicle, including, but not limited to, a device capable of text messaging, voice communication, entertainment, navigation, accessing the internet, or producing email.”

You can read the bills in full down below.

Potential fines

If the legislation does become law, drivers caught violating the rules would face fines and/or be required to perform community service.

If a person is caught holding or using a cellphone, or mobile electronic device, while driving a regular motor vehicle, they would face the following fines:

  • First violation: $100 fine or 16 hours of community service, or both.
  • Second or subsequent violation: $250 fine or 24 hours of community service, or both.
  • If 3 violations occur within a 3-year period: The driver would be ordered by the court to complete a driver improvement course.

If a person driving a commercial vehicle or a school bus is caught holding or using a cellphone, they would face the following fines:

  • First violation: $200 fine or 32 hours of community service, or both.
  • Second or subsequent violation: $500 fine or 48 hours of community service, or both.

Under the legislation, if a crash were to occur and the at-fault driver was holding or using a cellphone while driving, any civil fines ordered “must be double the amount that would otherwise be ordered.”

Law exceptions

Should the legislation become law, there would be a few exceptions to the rules.

Law enforcement, first responders and other public emergency workers would not be prohibited from using a cellphone while performing official duties. The same exception goes for anyone calling or texting 911, a law enforcement agency or another emergency service to report an emergency or seek help.

Drivers would also not be prohibited from using their GPS, but only if they aren’t using and holding their phone to access it or type in information. Phones could be used as navigation systems so long as it is in a hands-free fashion, such as mounting it to the dashboard or using voice commands to control it.

Generally, using voice commands or hands-free modes to use mobile electronic devices would be allowed.

Next steps

The three House bills passed in the Michigan House on May 2. The bills were then referred to the Michigan Senate’s Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety Committee.

The bills will be reviewed and voted on in the Senate. If they pass in the Senate, they will head to the Michigan governor’s desk to be signed or not.

If signed into law, Michigan would become the 26th state in the U.S. to establish hands-free driving laws.

It is currently unclear how long it will take for the legislation to come to a vote in the state Senate.

Those behind and supporting the legislation have said they hope to pass the bills by Memorial Day -- a holiday weekend that typically sees a lot of cars on the road in Michigan.

If the bills become law, officials would then have to work with law enforcement officers to ensure they have the resources to pull over and cite drivers violating the law. The state would also have to work to inform drivers of the new law.

Here are the bills in full, as passed by the House on May 2:

House Bill 4250

House Bill 4251

House Bill 4252

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.