What every Michigan driver should know about distracted driving

Shutterstock photo (Provided by The Sam Bernstein Law Firm)

It may be tempting to read that text, but is it worth your life?

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, an opportune time to learn about the dangerous practice that kills at least nine people every day and injures more than 100.

Distracted driving plays a role in more than 9% of all fatal car crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), translating to more than 3,100 deaths a year and more than 400,000 injuries.

In addition, because many accident reports do not cite distracted driving as the official cause, transportation experts believe the actual numbers are much higher.

Distracted driving, defined as any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from the road, falls into three main categories:

Visual: Taking your eyes off the road.

Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel.

Cognitive: Taking your mind off driving.

When a driver engages in behavior that causes one or more of these things to occur, it is considered distracted driving. Cellphones, which often cause all three types of distraction, are the biggest culprit.

Other dangerous distractions

In addition to cellphones, there are several other forms of distraction that can be equally dangerous. They include:

• Eating and drinking.

• Talking to passengers.

• Grooming, such as shaving or applying make-up.

• Reading, including maps or directions.

• Using a GPS or navigation system.

• Watching videos.

• Adjusting the radio station, CD or other audio device.

• Listening to loud music.

• Tending to children.

• Talking or texting hands-free.

• Driving with a pet on your lap.

Surprising statistics

• Sending or reading a text while driving 55 mph is like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed, according to the NHTSA.

• Hands-free talking or texting can be just as dangerous as using a hand-held device, according to the National Safety Commission (NSC). Talking on a cellphone narrows the field of vision, causing drivers to miss up to 50% of the view from the windshield.

• Approximately one in five (20%) of the people who died in crashes involving a distracted driver were pedestrians or bicyclists, according to the CDC.

• Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that it takes the average brain 27 seconds to return to its original task after a distraction, more than enough time to have an accident.

• A study by Car and Driver showed that drivers who texted or read emails had slower reaction and stopping time than drivers with blood alcohol levels of .08, the legal limit in Michigan.

Michigan cellphone laws

Michigan law prohibits all drivers from reading, manually typing, or sending text messages while driving. Level 1 and Level 2 license holders under the Michigan Graduated Driver Licensing Program may not use cellphones in any capacity while driving.

The law allows exceptions for certain urgent circumstances. These include medical emergencies and reporting crashes, crimes or serious road hazards. Drivers are also permitted to use cellphones in situations where their personal safety is jeopardized.

In addition, some municipalities have their own local ordinances prohibiting cellphone use while driving within their jurisdictions. Although these municipalities are supposed to post notices at their boundaries, this is not always the case.

Therefore, it’s better to avoid using a cellphone while driving in Michigan unless there is an emergency.

Drivers who disobey traffic laws because they were distracted by a cellphone may also be charged with another violation such as careless driving. What’s more, a driver who causes a car accident where someone is injured or killed can be charged with a more serious offense, including manslaughter.

“While using a cellphone while driving is not against the law in most Michigan cities, it’s still a dangerous practice,” says Mark Bernstein of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm. “Distracted driving is a major cause of serious accidents, most of which are preventable. No text or call is worth your life, so remember to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes and your mind on the road.”

Distraction-free driving

Here are some safe driving tips from the Michigan State Police Office of Highway Safety Planning:

• Set radio stations, climate control, GPS and other devices before you begin driving.

• Set your vehicle or phone to driving mode if available.

• Keep necessary items within easy reach to prevent reaching down to the floor or back seat.

• Avoid eating, drinking or smoking while driving.

• Pull off the road to attend to children or pets.

• Do personal grooming before leaving home or after reaching your destination.

• Ask passengers to help with children or perform other potentially distracting tasks.

• To stay alert, schedule frequent stops on long trips, allowing time for coffee and a short walk.

• Avoid medications that may cause drowsiness.

• If you get tired on a long trip, stop for the night and start fresh in the morning.

• Never get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol or using drugs.

For more information or to get your case started, contact The Sam Bernstein Law Firm or call 1-800-CALL-SAM for a free, no-obligation remote consultation from the safety of your home.


* National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

** Distracted driving information from the Michigan State Police