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Understanding Michigan’s New “Handsfree” Law

by | Jul 1, 2023 | Traffic, Traffic Offenses |

Cell phone with navigation system in car holder

On June 30, 2023, a new law went into effect in Michigan, which makes it illegal to use a handheld phone or other mobile electronic device while driving. This article will explain what is prohibited under this new law and the potential consequences for a violation.

What is prohibited by the new law?

MCL 257.602b(1) applies to all non-commercial drivers. MCL 257.602b(2) provides greater limitations and increased penalties for certain commercial drivers, which will not be discussed here.

Under most circumstances, the statute provides that “an individual shall not hold or use a mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle.”

The statute defines “hold” as “to physically support with any part of the hands, arms, or shoulders.” MCL 257.602b(12)(a).

The statute defines “mobile electronic device” as “an electronic device that is not permanently installed in a motor vehicle, including but not limited to, a device capable of text messaging, voice communication, entertainment, navigation, accessing the internet, or producing email.” MCL 257.602b(12)(b). However, the statute does not include the use of CB radio, built-in touchscreens, or medical devices.

The statue defines “use a mobile electronic device” for a non-commercial driver as “using a mobile electronic device to do any task.” MCL 257.602b(13).  However, there are several important exceptions, including:

  • Certain emergency personnel are allowed to use a mobile phone or other electronic device while performing their official duties.
  • Drivers may use a device “for emergency purposes, including calling or texting a 9-1-1 system” to report an emergency.
  • Drivers may utilize “a global positioning or navigation feature . . . if information is not entered by hand into . . . the mobile electronic device.”
  • Drivers may use “a mobile electronic device that is integrated into a motor vehicle” such as a built-in touchscreen.
  • Drivers may use a device for “the sole purpose of continuously recording or broadcasting video inside or outside of a motor vehicle.”
  • Drivers may use a “mobile electronic device that is placed in a mount and used” for any of the above purposes. MCL 257.602b(3).

Any use of a mobile electronic device outside of these exceptions, however, is illegal while operating a vehicle on a public street or road, even if the vehicle is “temporarily stationary” because of traffic conditions, a stop sign, or a red light. MCL 257.602b(12)(c).

 What are the penalties for violating the law (for non-commercial drivers)?

MCL 257.602b(4) provides the following consequences for a non-commercial driver, who is not involved in an accident and is cited for violating the hands-free law:

  • For a first violation: a fine of $200.00 and/or 32 hours of community service.
  • For a second or subsequent violation: a fine of $500.00 and/or 48 hours of community service.

If the violator is involved in an accident for which they are at fault, then the fine is doubled. MCL 257.602b(6).

If the violation causes death or serious injury to another person, the violator may be convicted of a misdemeanor. MCL 257.601d. If the violator is driving recklessly (which might be inferred from a violation of the “handsfree law”) and causes death or serious injury, this may constitute a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

A police officer may stop a driver solely for violating the “handsfree” law, but a violation does not, by itself, allow a police officer to search the violator’s vehicle. MCL 257.602b(9). It is important to note, however, that a police officer may have a basis to conduct a search of a vehicle if they are given consent or if they have probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed in the vehicle.

TLDR Summary of MCL 257.602b (the “handsfree” law):

  • You may not hold your phone, tablet, or other device while driving.
  • You may not use your phone, tablet, or other device while driving, but there are exceptions to this rule.
  • If the device is built-in or mounted to your vehicle, you may use for limited purposes, such as navigation or hands-free phone calls or messaging.
  • You may also use your phone or device to seek emergency services while driving.
  • If you are driving, and you need to use your phone or device (e.g., to make a call, check email, text, etc.), you must lawfully park your vehicle. Being stopped in traffic or at a red light is not enough.
  • If you are stopped by a police officer for using your phone or device illegally while driving, you will be fined and/or ordered to perform community service. Fines may be doubled if you are in an accident.
  • Using a phone or other device while driving is dangerous and can kill or seriously injure someone. This can subject you to significant criminal liability.

Be safe out there, and if you have questions about the “handsfree law” or any other legal matters, please contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak, PLC for assistance today.

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