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Distracted Driving in Michigan: Facts & Statistics

According to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed the lives of 3,142 Americans in the year 2020. Although data from 2021 and 2022 hasn’t been published yet by the NHTSA, the number of accidents, including fatalities, is expected to rise, as some statewide reports show an increase since 2020. 

Data shows that distracted driving leads to accidents and fatalities, yet many drivers still engage in this dangerous practice. That’s why many states, including Michigan, have enacted laws and/or initiatives to help reduce the number of accidents and ultimately save thousands of lives.

What Is Distracted Driving?

a distracted young woman with blondish-brown hair sits in a car. She has a cell phone resting between her shoulder and neck. She is looking straight into the car's folding mirror as she applies pink lipstick

Distracted driving refers to any driver that engages in an activity that removes their attention away from the road and the act of driving itself. In Michigan, distracted driving is split into three categories: visual, manual, and cognitive. For example, texting while driving is an example of visual, manual, and cognitive distraction. In this example, the driver is looking down at their phone and not at the road (visual), most likely taking at least one hand off of the wheel to text back (manual), and focused on the act of texting rather than driving (cognitive).

Examples of Distracted Driving

Beyond texting, there are many different activities that are considered to be distractions, including:

  • Making phone calls
  • Eating
  • Putting on makeup
  • Loudly listening to music or podcasts
  • Searching for an item in the car
  • Reading 
  • Changing songs on a device
  • Streaming a movie

Is Driving Under the Influence Considered Distracted Driving?

No. They are considered to be in two different categories, and the laws surrounding them are different. As a zero-tolerance state, Michigan tends to have stricter consequences for impaired driving, but in the near future, there may likewise be stricter consequences for distracted driving. 

It’s important to note that both driving under the influence and distracted driving are unsafe practices that can result in auto accidents and fatalities.

Who Is Most Affected by Distracted Driving?

According to the CDC, teen drivers and young adults are more at risk for distracted driving compared to older drivers. Additionally, teen drivers and young adults are also more at risk of being involved in a fatal accident. Data from NHTSA also shows a 14% increase in fatal crashes involving young drivers (ages 15 to 20).

Data from the NHTSA also shows a significant increase in distracted driving-related fatalities in the 25 to 34 age group.

Distracted Driving in Michigan

man driving a car at night

Distracted driving is a leading cause of auto accidents in Michigan. In 2020, distracted drivers caused 14,236 reported accidents. This accounts for 6% of all reported crashes in that year. Out of those distracted driving-related crashes, 5,560 people were injured and 52 individuals lost their lives. 

In most distracted driving-related crashes, cell phone use was listed as the main cause. In fact, 2,394 accidents and 15 fatalities were  attributed to cell phone usage. And, out of those cases, just over 17% of drivers who caused the accidents were 20-years-old or younger.

The Distracted Driving Law in Michigan

The current distracted driving law in Michigan went into effect July 1, 2010. It states that:

Reading, typing, or sending text message[s] on [a] wireless two-way communication device [is] prohibited; use of hand-held mobile telephone [is] prohibited. Use of a phone includes: using at least one hand to press more than a single button, 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. 

This means that drivers are not allowed to use their cell phones, even when they are stopped at a stop sign or stoplight. While this is a great start to deter distracted driving, this doesn’t account for some of the other causes of distracted driving, such as the driver being distracted by the passenger, another electronic device, an activity that occurs outside of the vehicle, and hands-free talking on mobile devices. 

House Passes a Stricter Law

On January 26, 2022, the Michigan House passed a bill to create a stricter law with regard to distracted driving. 

The existing law prohibits drivers from holding a phone and having a conversation while driving or texting or reading texts while driving, whereas the House bill would specifically prohibit drivers from accessing social media while driving. This includes taking photos or videos while driving, looking at social media, or watching videos. The House bill would also expand the type of devices to which it applies from just cell phones to electronic devices, including cell phones, computers, tablets, and pagers. 

The House bill has not yet passed the Senate or been signed by the Governor, so it is not yet the law. In fact, police authorities are to provide information as to whether the new requirements proposed under the House bill are even enforceable and how they would be enforced.

The proposed new law also changes the penalties associated with breaking the distracted driving law. Under the current law, drivers can be fined $100 for a first offense of texting and driving, and $200 for a second offense. The House bill proposes changing the penalty for a first offense to $100 or 16 hours of community service, and $250 or 24 hours of community service for each subsequent offense.

Exceptions to the Current Distracted Driving Law

Under the current distracted driving law, communication systems (handheld radio services used by truck drivers, school bus drivers, commercial drivers, and emergency service personnel) are exempted. It also does not apply to individuals looking at a GPS or navigation system (outside of their cell phone). Lastly, individuals calling to report a medical emergency, traffic accident, road hazard, or any situation where their or someone else’s personal safety is in jeopardy cannot be cited for violation of the current distracted driving law. 

What Happens If Drivers Violate This Law?

Currently, if a driver is cited for violating the distracted driving law in Michigan, they can be assessed a $100 civil fine for their first offense, and a $200 civil fine for each subsequent offense. If the driver is involved in an accident, the civil fines may be doubled. Additionally, the driver will receive one point against their driving record for a first offense that resulted in an accident and two points for subsequent violations that result in accidents. If a driver has three or more violations within three years, they could lose their license for up to 90 days. If the accident caused a fatality, an individual can be charged with a misdemeanor. The misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $2,000 and can be punishable by up to a year in county jail.

Distracted Driving Initiatives in Michigan

On April 7, 2022, Michigan police conducted a one-day Connect to Disconnect Initiative as part of Michigan’s “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” statewide campaign. During a specified four-hour time period, officers were asked to cite drivers who were using their cell phones to text or call while driving. The results of this initiative have not yet been released.

Were You Injured by a Distracted Driver? Contact Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys Today

Unfortunately, distracted driving isn’t going away anytime soon. If you or someone you love were injured by a distracted driver, contact Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys immediately. Our auto accident lawyers have been fighting and winning for clients in Michigan for over 25 years. Each auto accident case is unique—to learn how to move forward with your case, complete our online form today’ to schedule a free case evaluation.

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Christian Collis

Chris Collis's Bio

Christian Collis has been an attorney for over 20 years. His legal career crosses multiple areas with the majority of his life spent fighting for plaintiffs in the areas of automobile negligence, trucking accidents, premises liability, and wrongful death.