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New state driving law in effect

Update to distracted driving law easier to enforce

MetroCreative A new Michigan law took effect Friday in an effort to reduce vehicle accidents caused by distracted driving.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation into law June 3, making it illegal to use a cell phone or other mobile electronic device while operating a vehicle on Michigan roads.

Under this distracted driving law, a driver cannot hold or support a phone or other device with any part of their hands, arms, or shoulders.

The new distracted driving law went into effect on Friday, June 30, according to a release from the Michigan State Police (MSP).

According to the MSP website, even if a cell phone or other device is mounted on your dashboard or connected to your vehicle’s built-in system, you cannot use your hands to operate it beyond a single touch.

As a result, a driver cannot manually do any of the following on a cell phone or other electronic device while driving:

• Make or answer a telephone or video call.

• Send or read a text or email message.

• Watch, record, or send a video.

• Access, read, or post to social media.

• Browse or use the Internet.

• Enter information into GPS or a navigation system.

Trooper Alan Narhi, of the MSP Calumet Post, said the new law updates a previous distracted driver law that limited actions law enforcement agents could take regarding drivers distracted by cell phone use.The law that took effect on Friday is much easier to enforce.

The previous law went into effect on July 1, 2010.

“The previous law relied a lot on cooperation from the public,” Narhi said. “This law is essentially Michigan becoming a hands-free state. In other words, you can’t have an electronic device in your possession, at all, while you’re driving.”

The new law gives officers a broader range of discretion, and therefore broader authority, in determining distracted driving. Under the previous law, said Narhi, distracted driving involving a cell phone was limited to sending, reading, or receiving a text message only, said Narhi.

“You could be doing anything you wanted on your phone, and we would have no idea until we talk to you.”

It also makes it what is referred to as a primary violation, Narhi said, which means enforcement is based solely on an officer’s observations.

There are exceptions to that, Narhi said. For example, if a driver needs to call 911 to report and emergency, a crash a traffic hazard, or a reckless driver, use of a cell phone is permitted.

“You can communicate on your phone if you can do it hands-free,” he explained.

Although the updated law stipulates that a driver cannot operate a cell phone, or other device, beyond a single touch, Narhi said that mostphones today have voice-command capability.

“If you’re using voice commands to your phone, that’s okay,” he said. Also, while it is permissible to use a GPS unit while driving, it is not permissible to type destinations or coordinates into a device while driving.

In defining distracted driving and what the law is aimed at, Narhi provided an example he witnessed while in response to a vehicle crash near Lake Annie Road in Franklin Township this past Friday morning:

While he was at the crash scene and directing traffic, he witnessed more than one motorist driving by, while aiming their phone out the side window of their vehicles, snapping photos of the crash.

It is that kind of carelessness the new law is aimed at curbing.

According to an April 7, 2022 Michigan.gov, 2020 fact sheet, 5.8% of Michigan crashes involved a distracted driver. There were 14,236 motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2020, and 48 of those crashes resulted in a fatality. A year later, those numbers had increased to 16,543 crashes with 59 resulting in a fatality.

The distracted driving law is not limited to using a cell phone, according to Michigan.gov, but also includes eating, drinking, smoking, looking after children or pets, searching or reaching for an item while driving, including adjusting climate or music controls and listening to loud music.

“What those are getting at,” said Narhi, “is that those are distractions that can occur inside a vehicle. Those are hazards that can cause distractions.”

Penalties for violating the new law are:

• 1st violation — $100 fine and/or 16 hours of community service.

•2nd or subsequent violations — $250 fine and/or 24 hours of community service.

• 3 violations within a 3-year period — Complete a driving-improvement course.

• Fines doubled — If a traffic crash occurs and the at-fault driver was holding or manually using a mobile device while operating the vehicle, any civil fines will be doubled.

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