Starting this summer, Michigan drivers will have to put down their phones while behind the wheel or risk a ticket

On Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation making Michigan the 26th state to enact a “hands-free” distracted driving law, which bars motorists from driving while holding cell phones to talk on the phone, text, watch or record videos or look at social media.

The legislation is poised to take effect June 30, just ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. Whitmer said drivers should expect a statewide awareness campaign in the coming weeks, followed by aggressive enforcement of the new policy once it takes effect.

“This will reduce distracted driving crashes that have taken too many lives and shattered so many families across Michigan,” Whitmer said during an event at Plymouth’s Mitchel Kiefer Memorial Rink in USA Hockey Arena, which was dedicated to Mitchel Kiefer after he was killed when his car was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by a distracted driver in 2016.

Steve Kiefer, president of the Kiefer Foundation, is a key backer of distracted driving laws in Michigan and other states. His son, Mitchel, died in an accident caused by distracted driving. (Bridge photo by Lauren Gibbons)
Michigan has had a texting-and-driving ban for more than a decade, but at the time it was passed, most cell phones still had keyboards and couldn’t do much more than take a pixelated picture or send a text message.

Safety advocates contend the current rules are not strong enough to deter distracted driving, which caused 3,522 traffic deaths in the United States in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A similar law recently enacted in Ohio has resulted in a 9 percent decrease in distracted driving crashes so far, said Brad Wieferich, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. He’s hopeful Michigan will see similar results that improve traffic safety for drivers and road crews.

“This measure actually mirrors what we already have been doing for department employees when driving state vehicles,” he said.

“Not only will this legislation protect the drivers themselves, it’s also going to make our work zone safer — we have some very vulnerable people in those work zones,” he said, adding that drivers “need to have a much higher margin of attentiveness.”

This article originally appeared in Bridge Michigan. For more, click here