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Police crack down on distracted driving

man looks down at phone while sitting in red car
Damian Dovarganes
In this 2011 file photo, a driver uses a cellphone while driving in Los Angeles.

Michigan's hands-free driving law went into effect in June 2023, but cell phone use behind wheel is still prevalent.

Michigan’s Hands-Free Driving Law went into effect in June of last year. But police are ramping up enforcement in April for National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Distracted driving caused over 15,000 car accidents in Michigan in 2022, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning. It’s giving additional funding to police agencies that want to crack down on distracted driving this month.

Katie Bower is the director of OHSP. She said that in spite of the hands-free law, many drivers have not broken the habit of using phones while they’re behind the wheel. 

“People start feeling a little emboldened, like they do it so often and so long without anything happening, that they feel like they can continue to do it,” she said. “But unfortunately, once a crash occurs because of directed driving, and somebody's seriously hurt or killed, you can't take it back.”

Under the law, drivers cannot hold a cell phone while driving except to call 9-1-1. Drivers can use hands-free technology in the car.

Kalamazoo County is participating in the initiative. Sheriff Richard Fuller said officers in Kalamazoo County already enforce Michigan’s hands-free law, but are still making drivers aware of it.

“It's not a very old law. It's fairly new,” he said. “And it's important for the public to understand that law enforcement is out there, one, to try and educate people, and two, to hold people accountable if they are caught using these devices or having a distraction while they’re driving.”

A first citation for distracted driving carries a penalty of $100 and/or 16 hours of community service. That penalty is doubled if the driver is involved in a traffic accident. Penalties increase for additional violations.

Marv Berkowitz of Portage is the founder of the group Fathers Against Distracted Driving. He said he’d like to see harsher penalties for drivers who violate the law, as well as more citations for distracted driving even after the month of April.

“You can have all the laws you want,” he said. “But if you don't enforce them, so what?"

There were 2,380 car accidents in Michigan in 2022 that involved driver cell phone use. That’s according to the annual Michigan Traffic Crash Facts report.