Michigan Distracted Driving

A Guide to Michigan's Distracted Driving Laws

(It's more than just not texting.)

Distracted Driving Laws

There are more than 25,000 car accidents every year in Michigan. And most of them are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is any activity that takes your focus off the primary task of driving, and Michigan warns drivers of three types of distractions:

  • Manual: anything that causes you to take your hands off the wheel, like eating, smoking, or reaching for an object
  • Visual: anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road, like looking at a GPS, checking your hair in the review mirror,  or looking at kids in the backseat
  • Cognitive: anything that causes you to take your mind off the task of driving, like having a conversation with a passenger, going over your shopping list in your head, or daydreaming

Every type of distraction increases your risk of committing a moving violation or causing an accident. Currently this state’s laws focus primarily on the risks posed by cell phone use, while neglecting a number of other key sources of distraction.

Distracted Driving Statistics in Michigan

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Michigan:

  • In 2017, there were 7,416 crashes in Michigan that involved distracted driving.
  • These crashes resulted in 3,472 injuries and 28 fatalities.
  • In a survey conducted by the Office of Highway Safety and Planning, 41% of young adult drivers admitted to regularly sending texts and emails while driving.
  • There are a number of different types of distractions. Cell phone usage is associated with 10% of Michigan’s distracted driving crashes.

Does Michigan Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

Michigan currently prohibits:

  • Reading, writing, or sending text messages while behind the wheel
  • Drivers under the age of 18 with a Level 1 or 2 learner’s permit from using cell phones while driving, even if in hands-free mode.
  • Drivers of commercial motor vehicles and school buses from using handheld cell phones
  • Handheld cell phone use in the cities of Detroit and Battle Creek

Michigan lawmakers are also currently working on passing a bill that would prohibit the use of handheld cell phones statewide, but as of the time of this writing, it's still in the early stages.

Michigan compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But in 2021, newly enacted cell phone restriction laws will go into effect in Arizona.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Michigan?

Yes.

Exceptions to Michigan’s distracted driving laws apply when the driver is using a mobile communication device for the purpose of:

  • Reporting a traffic accident, medical emergency, or serious road hazard
  • Reporting a situation in which the person believes their personal safety is in jeopardy
  • Reporting or averting the perpetration or potential perpetration of a criminal act against the individual or another person
  • Carrying out official duties as a police officer, law enforcement official, member of a paid or volunteer fire department, or operator of an emergency vehicle.

Michigan Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?
                X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                X               
Is handheld device use permitted?                X
Any special restriction for young drivers?                X                
Is headphone/headset use permitted?                X               

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in Michigan?

Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.

Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a cell phone.  

So, what happens if a police officer in Michigan sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that says you can't eat while driving in this state.

But even legal distractions (like eating or adjusting the radio) can significantly increase your risk of being in an accident or driving erratically, so it's better to avoid as many distractions as possible. Otherwise, you might find yourself looking at the wrong end of a citation.

So unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Big Mac indoors or in the parking lot.

What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Michigan uses primary enforcement.

This means that even if you're obeying all traffic laws and believe you're in total control of your vehicle, if a police officer sees you sending a text message or checking your email while driving, you can be pulled over and given a citation.

What's the Fine for Distracted Driving in Michigan?

Currently, the penalties for a distracted driving citation in Michigan are:

  • For a first violation, offenders are fined $100.
  • For a second and subsequent violation: $200.
  • For violating the law while holding a Level 1 or Level 2 license: This is a civil infraction and is penalized with a fine of up to $240.

Michigan's fines for distracted driving compared to surrounding states

Michigans’s fines for distracted driving compared to surrounding states

As you can see, the cost for violating distracted driving laws in Michigan is higher than most of its neighboring states. So now's a good time to rethink just how valuable that text message actually is. You’re really better off just waiting until you arrive at your destination.

Does Distracted Driving in Michigan Increase Insurance Rates?

That depends.

In most cases, a distracted driving ticket won't add points to your license, so there's a good chance your car insurance company won't know about the infraction.

But points do get added if you cause an accident or commit a moving violation while distracted. In this case, your insurance company will be aware that you violated the state's distracted driving laws and this can cost you big-time.

Michigan residents have seen rate increases of over $600 a year following a distracted driving citation that's been reported to their insurance company — much higher than the national average.

And if you have a safe driver discount, you can probably kiss that goodbye. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and this can cause your rate increase to be even more painful.

What If I Drive into Another State?

Distracted driving laws vary by state, and when you cross that state line you are required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip.

Many states ban the use of handheld devices while driving, and some don't. So hey, just put the phone away and don't risk the fine. It's never worth it.

What's Michigan Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?

Lawmakers are currently working toward strengthening distracted driving laws with a ban on the use of handheld devices while driving. This legislation has the full backing of Governor Gretchen Whitmer and is expected to become a full-on law in the near future.

In the meantime, Michigan’s Distracted Driving Action Team is developing and enacting strategies like:

  • Developing effective public education initiatives
  • Promoting distracted driving enforcement
  • Implementing low-cost roadway countermeasures, such as rumble strips
  • Improving data collection on driver distractions involved in crashes
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of countermeasures adopted by other states

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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http://publications.michigantrafficcrashfacts.org/2018/Crash.pdf

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/msp/Distracted_Driving_Fact_Sheet_552283_7.pdf

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(u0cdq02dhgzgdsga5cpye3tm))/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=mcl-257-602b

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/msp/Distracted_Driving_Action_Plan_2018_644051_7.pdf