Michigan House passes stricter distracted driving bills

A social media policy and other updates to modernize the laws against distracted driving were passed Tuesday by the Michigan House.

Current law prohibits drivers from reading, typing or sending messages manually on devices being held in one’s hand or lap.

The package, which will now head to the Senate, would expand the prohibition to accessing social media while driving and expand the definition of devices to identify numerous electronic devices including cellphones, pagers, laptops, computer tablets and "any similar device that is readily removable from a vehicle and is used to write, send, or read text or data or capture images or video through manual input."

One of the sponsors of the bills, Democrat Rep. Mari Manoogian, testified that the package would modernize the state’s law to keep up with modern technology

"Current Michigan law bans texting while driving, which narrowly means the act of typing a text message on your cell phone. That means a driver can still stream Netflix, shop on Amazon, record a TikTok or take a Zoom call on-camera while driving and still be compliant with Michigan law," Manoogian said.

Penalties for distracted driving would increase with the package. Under the current law the first offense is a civil fine of $100 and $200 for each subsequent offense.

Under the new legislation the first offense could cost drivers $100 or 16 hours of community service and then $250 for each subsequent offense and/or possibly 24 hours of community service. If the driver is involved in a crash while they are on an electronic device, the civil fines would be doubled.

On the second violation under the proposed legislation, a driver would accumulate one point against their driving record and two points for each subsequent violation.

If a driver accumulates three or more violations within three years, a court could suspend their license for up to 90 days.

Amendments added Tuesday provide for clarification that in emergency situations, like to call 911, drivers are exempt from the rule.

Throughout the legislative process, representatives have inquired whether law enforcement will be able to enforce the bills. One of the substitutes adopted added a five-year sunset provision in which Michigan State Police would compile a report to evaluate how enforceable the new rules are.

Republican Rep. John Reilly, who testified against the bills, asked where government’s restrictions on liberty end.

"Unfortunately in our country we have a love affair with safety. Liberty has an element of risk, you can’t have both," Reilly said.

Fellow Republican Rep. Roger Hauck, who said he hadn’t planned on testifying, said his mother-in-law was killed by a driver who was suspected of texting and driving.

"I am so sick and tired of people talking about liberties, but who’s talking about my mother-in-law’s liberties?" Hauck said. "Her liberties were taken away and they will never come back."