- Michigan House passes ban on most handheld cell phone use while driving
- Drivers with repeated violations would have to attend state-mandated education course
- Language that would have allowed 90-day license suspension was removed after backlash
LANSING — A measure to toughen the state’s distracted driving law and mandate hands-free devices cleared the Michigan House on Tuesday after the harshest penalties — 90-day license suspensions for repeat offenders — were removed.
The three-bill package would prohibit drivers from using hand-held electronic devices to call, text, record or view videos or access social media, among other things. An earlier version — deemed too punitive by some — was withdrawn last week after it failed to receive enough votes.
“The big argument against the license suspension is that if this happens to somebody, not only is their license suspended, (but if) they rely on their car to get to work, it would cost them their job,” said Rep. Matt Koleszar, a Plymouth Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill package.
- Cell phone driving ban stalls in Michigan; critics say plan too harsh
- Lawmakers look to further limit cell phone use while driving in Michigan
“By having a driver’s education course instead, you are actually helping to re-educate them.”
The main legislation — House Bill 4250 — passed 68-39 Tuesday.
Amended language calls for violators to face fines for first offense and mandatory participation in the state’s Basic Driver’s Improvement Course program for repeated offenders.
The bills would make Michigan the 26th state to enact a hand-held cell phone ban for drivers. Ohio implemented a similar ban last month.
Emergency calls and hands-free use of navigation services would be exempt from the Michigan ban. The bills also exempt first responders, law enforcement officials and drivers of “automated motor vehicles” from penalties. Additionally, two-way radio devices, CB or ham radios and electronic medical devices such as insulin pumps would also continue to be allowed.
Michigan law already forbids texting while driving, and drivers face $100 fines for first offenses and $200 for every violation afterward.
Violators of the new legislation would also be subject to fines, with higher fines of up to $500 per violation for drivers of school buses or commercial vehicles.
Repeated offenders, who have three violations within three years, must participate in the mandatory driver’s education course approved by the state.
The course helps drivers avoid point deductions and comes with a maximum cost of $100, according to the state Secretary of State’s website.
Some legislators last week expressed concerns the legislation could be abused by law enforcement to disproportionately target drivers of color. Koleszar said that was not the main concern, stressing the legislation is designed to expire five years after its implementation and includes a 42-month study on its effectiveness.
“We will get data that will show us exactly what this law in practice looks like,” he said.
Even with lighter penalties, critics including Rep. Jamie Greene, R-Richmond, worried the proposal is too “punitive.” She called the bills “government overreach.”
“These fines are significant,” she said, arguing the bills would target lower-income people who tend to not have access to hands-free technology.
A better alternative, Greene said, is to fund education programs, such as video ads teaching drivers the harm of distracted driving.
The measure comes as distracted driving incidents are increasing: Nearly 6 percent of all statewide crashes, 16,543, in 2021 involved at least one distracted driver, up from 5.8 percent, or 14,236, in 2020.
Crashes involving distracted drivers were more severe than those that did not, according to an analysis by the Center for the Management of Information for Safe and Sustainable Transportation and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Nationwide, more than 32,400 people died in distracted driving-related crashes between 2011 and 2020, according to a state analysis of statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.