‘Hands-free’ distracted driving law takes effect June 30 in Michigan
- New law bans drivers from holding cell phones while driving except in emergency situations
- It takes effect June 30, just ahead of the Fourth of July weekend
- Supporters say the law will result in safer roads, fewer deaths
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PLYMOUTH — Starting this summer, Michigan drivers will have to put down their phones while behind the wheel or risk a ticket.
On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation making Michigan the 26th state to enact a “hands-free” distracted driving law, which bars motorists from driving while holding cell phones to talk on the phone, text, watch or record videos or look at social media.
The legislation is poised to take effect June 30, just ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. Whitmer said drivers should expect a statewide awareness campaign in the coming weeks, followed by aggressive enforcement of the new policy once it takes effect.
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“This will reduce distracted driving crashes that have taken too many lives and shattered so many families across Michigan,” Whitmer said during an event at Plymouth’s Mitchel Kiefer Memorial Rink in USA Hockey Arena, which was dedicated to Mitchel Kiefer after he was killed when his car was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by a distracted driver in 2016.
Michigan has had a texting-and-driving ban for more than a decade, but at the time it was passed, most cell phones still had keyboards and couldn’t do much more than take a pixelated picture or send a text message.
Safety advocates contend the current rules are not strong enough to deter distracted driving, which caused 3,522 traffic deaths in the United States in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A similar law recently enacted in Ohio has resulted in a 9 percent decrease in distracted driving crashes so far, said Brad Wieferich, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. He’s hopeful Michigan will see similar results that improve traffic safety for drivers and road crews.
“This measure actually mirrors what we already have been doing for department employees when driving state vehicles,” he said.
“Not only will this legislation protect the drivers themselves, it's also going to make our work zone safer — we have some very vulnerable people in those work zones,” he said, adding that drivers “need to have a much higher margin of attentiveness.”
Under the new law, drivers will be barred from using social media, watching or recording videos or holding their phones to make a call while driving in addition to texting.
Passenger vehicle drivers could be fined $100 for a first offense, $250 for subsequent violations and be required to complete a driver improvement course if they are cited three or more times within a three-year period.
Emergency calls, cell phone mounts and Bluetooth-connected dashboard screens for mapping trips and changing tunes are exempt, as are electronic medical devices like insulin pumps, two-way radios and CB radios.
The effort was years in the making. Steve Kiefer, Mitchel Kiefer’s father and a retired General Motors executive who now chairs the Kiefer Foundation, said it’s the third legislative cycle they’ve advocated for the policy, telling reporters Wednesday that “partisan politics” made getting legislation to the governor’s desk more difficult.
This legislative session, the plan initially hit roadblocks in the House over penalties deemed too punitive by some Democrats, but ultimately cleared both chambers after modifications.
Kiefer, whose foundation is involved in similar efforts to crack down on distracted driving in 14 states, said he doesn’t intend to stop advocating until all 50 states have hands-free driving laws. The foundation is laying plans for a “Hands-Free Florida” policy push later this month.
“This is probably the single biggest thing we've accomplished to get these laws passed in Michigan, our home state, Mitchel’s home state, the state where he was killed,” Steve Kiefer said. “We’re saving lives — I know this summer, Michigan will be safer than it was last summer, which makes us all feel really good.”
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