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What Are The Penalties For Texting While Driving In Michigan?

Cellular phones are ubiquitous to modern society and it seems that people are on them whenever there is a spare moment (e.g. waiting in line at the store, on commercial break or even waiting to get a case called in the courthouse). It is especially tempting to get on the phone and send text messages while waiting in a traffic jam because there is nothing else to do. However, the Michigan Legislature recognized that cell phones are a major distraction on the road and the diverted attention can result in traffic accidents and fatalities. In response, the "distracted driving" statute was passed to penalize the use of text messaging while operating a vehicle.

MCL 257.602b(1) provides "[a] person shall not 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, including a wireless telephone used in cellular telephone service or personal communication service, while operating a motor vehicle that is moving on a highway or street in this state."

  • A "wireless 2-way communication device" does not include a global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the motor vehicle.
  • This subsection does not apply to a person using an on-demand automated motor vehicle network.
  • This subsection does not apply to a person operating a commercial vehicle.

MCL 257.602(2) provides "[a] person shall not 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, including a wireless telephone used in cellular telephone service or personal communication service, while operating a commercial motor vehicle or a school bus on a highway or street in this state."

  • A "wireless 2-way communication device" does not include a global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the commercial motor vehicle or school bus.

MCL 257.602(3) provides "[a] person shall not use a hand-held mobile telephone to conduct a voice communication while operating a commercial motor vehicle or a school bus on a highway, including while temporarily stationary due to traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays."

  • This subsection does not apply if the operator of the commercial vehicle or school bus has moved the vehicle to the side of, or off, a highway and has stopped in a location where the vehicle can safely remain stationary.
  • "Mobile telephone" does NOT include a 2-way radio service or citizens band radio service.
  • "Use a hand-held mobile telephone" means 1 or more of the following:
  1. Using at least 1 hand to hold a mobile telephone to conduct a voice communication.
  2. Dialing or answering a mobile telephone by pressing more than a single button.
  3. Reaching for a mobile telephone in a manner that requires a driver to maneuver so that he or she is no longer in a seated driving position, restrained by a seat belt that is installed as required by 49 CFR 393.93 and adjusted in accordance with the vehicle manufacturer's instructions.

According to MCL 257.602b(4), the "distracted driving statute" does not apply to an individual using a mobile device in a motor vehicle to do any of the following:

  • Report a traffic accident, medical emergency, or serious road hazard.
  • Report a situation in which the person believes his or her personal safety is in jeopardy.
  • Report or avert the perpetration or potential perpetration of a criminal act against the individual or another person.
  • Carry out official duties as a police officer, law enforcement official, member of a paid or volunteer fire department, or operator of an emergency vehicle.
  • Operate or program the operation of an automated motor vehicle while testing or operating the automated motor vehicle without a human operator.

Critics say that the law is poorly drafted because it simply does not encompass all of the distractions that a cell phone creates. The only prohibited conduct is that a person shall not read, manually type, or send a "text message". Although not defined in the Michigan Vehicle Code, a "text message" is commonly understood to be an electronic message sent over a cellular network from one cell phone to another by typing words on the phone's numeric keypad or alphabetic keyboard. This activity does not cover other uses of the cell phone such as having a verbal conversation, accessing and using social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, watching videos on YouTube or reading and sending emails. To be found responsible for this offense, the police and prosecutor must prove that you were using the text messaging application only while operating the motor vehicle.

Texting while driving is a civil infraction punishable by a fine as follows:

  • $100.00 for a first violation.
  • $200.00 for a second or subsequent violation.

There are no points assessed against your Michigan Driver's License for this offense. Although this particular offense is very light in its penalties, keep in mind that the prohibited conduct can lead to more serious charges. For example, if texting and driving causes you to swerve where other vehicles must take evasive action or leads to a collision, then you can be charged with the felony of reckless driving causing substantial injuries or death.

On July 20th, 2018, former Michigan State University men's strength coach Todd Moyer was found guilty of two counts of reckless driving causing death by a Monroe County jury where his pickup truck rear-ended a car in a construction zone that killed a mother and her child. The prosecutor presented evidence at trial that, in the minutes leading up to the crash, the defendant was texting on his cell phone. This texting behavior created a "willful and wanton disregard" to persons and property that, in the eyes of the jury, elevated this event from a mere traffic accident to a criminal felony conviction. He ultimately received a sentence of 7 to 15 years in state prison. This cautionary tale is to illustrate that it is better to put away the phone until you reach your destination before you unintentionally shatter and destroy the lives of innocent people forever.

The Michigan Legislature regularly considers modifying this law in the future to both prohibit more cell phone activities while driving and increase the penalties. It is possible that distracted driving may become a misdemeanor criminal offense in the not-so-distant future. If you have questions about the distracted driving laws or any other traffic offense, do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe and Jedinak PLC.

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