Michigan gov signs hands-free driving bills into law: What that means for drivers

New rules could take effect as soon as June 30

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation into law Wednesday, making it illegal to drive while holding or using a cellphone.

Michigan has become one of 26 states to pass so-called hands-free driving legislation meant to curb distracted driving and related crashes. The Michigan Legislature sent three approved bills to the governor’s desk last month for final approval.

Gov. Whitmer signed the legislation into law on Wednesday, June 7. The new rules could take effect as soon as June 30.

The legislation -- House bills 4250, 4251, and 4252 -- amends the Michigan Vehicle Code to help reduce distracted driving caused by cellphone use. Lawmakers voted to modernize existing laws to match today’s technology to better specify what type of mobile device use is prohibited while driving.

Prior to the new legislation, it has been illegal to text while driving in Michigan -- but that rule was established 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 newly signed hands-free driving rules will make all cellphone usage illegal while driving in Michigan -- not just texting.

The specifics

The newly signed legislation will make any cellphone use that isn’t hands-free illegal, including scrolling, searching, calling, etc.

The language in the bills will 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 will 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 last month 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

Once the new rules take effect, drivers caught violating the law can 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 three 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 rules, 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.”

Exceptions to the rule

There are some exceptions to the new driving rules.

Law enforcement, first responders and other public emergency workers won’t 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 also won’t 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, hands-free cellphone use will be allowed, such as using a system built into the vehicle, or using voice commands to access the phone.

Red lights are not exceptions, however. Even if a driver is at a complete stop at a red light, it would still be illegal to hold and use a cellphone.

Next steps

Michigan is the 26th state in the U.S. to establish hands-free driving laws.

Now that the legislation has been signed by Gov. Whitmer, officials have to work with law enforcement officers to ensure they have the resources to pull over and cite drivers violating the law.

The state also has to inform drivers of the new rules -- especially if the rules are to take effect by the end of June.

Read the bills in full, as passed by the Michigan Senate on May 10

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.