Law advancing quickly, but it's too weak
Michigan lawmakers appear to be moving at a blistering pace to revise Michigan’s distracted driving laws. Governor Gretchen Whitmer called for tougher distracted driving laws in her first State of the State address and the legislature quickly went to work. Bills proposing amendments to current distracted driving laws have been introduced in the Michigan House and Senate. On April 30th, the House Transportation Committee took testimony on the bills. The Committee acted fast and voted the bills out of the Committee on May 2nd. It is fantastic to see the Michigan Legislature acting on what is surely most important issue to the majority of cyclists. However, the real test will not be how fast the Legislature acts to reform existing laws, but rather whether the reforms are meaningful.
Michigan has some of the weakest distracted driving laws in the country. In fact, the laws against distracted driving in the state are so lame that they send the message Michigan lawmakers don’t really take distracted driving seriously. Under current laws, it is illegal for a person to “read, manually type, or send a text message on a wireless 2-way communication device that is located in the person’s hand or in the person’s lap.” In other words, it is not a violation of the law to use Twitter, Facebook, email, or do all types of things on a phone while driving in Michigan! Additionally, it is only a violation of the law to text unless a person has their cell phone in their hand or on their lap.
A violation of the current law is a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of only $100 for the first offense and $200 for the second offense. Unlike almost all other moving driving violations, a violation of Michigan’s texting and driving law does not result in any “points” being added to a driver’s record with the Secretary of State.
As always, cyclists were well represented at the April 30th hearing before the Michigan House Transportation Committee, by the League of Michigan Bicyclists. Insightful testimony was provided by Matt Penniman, Communications Director at the LMB.
In our opinion, the current proposals being debated in the Michigan Legislature strengthen existing law, but do not go far enough. We believe that Michigan should follow the lead numerous states and the District of Columbia, by placing an outright ban on any use of cellphones while driving, unless a driver is talking with the use of a hands-free device.