Michigan House approves bills banning cell phone use while driving; what fines would be

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Using a cell phone while driving would be illegal under bills passed by the Michigan House Tuesday — the latest attempt to push through legislation meant to cut down on distracted driving. 

The House voted 75-26 to pass the package's main bill, which would ban the use of all mobile devices while driving, including cell phones, laptops or tablets. There are exceptions made for hands-free devices, emergency calls, GPS hands or selecting a number on a phone. 

"Michigan’s roads are still far too dangerous," said Rep. Mari Manoogian, a Birmingham Democrat and a sponsor of the package. "Too many Michiganders are not making it home at the end of the day. ... As a body it is up to us to do everything we can to keep Michigan safe."

But the measure was rejected by Rep. John Reilly, R-Oakland Township, who said the bill was akin to the "big hand of government" impeding on civil liberties. 

"We have a love affair with safety," Reilly said. "Liberty has an element of risk. We can’t have both. ... My question would be: When does this end?”

Reilly's arguments were rebuffed by GOP Rep. Roger Hauck, R-Union Township, whose mother-in-law was killed by a suspected distracted driver near her driveway.

"My mother-in-law's liberties were taken away from her by somebody texting on a phone," Hauck said. "This has to stop. Everyone knows what's going on."

The three-bill package has been pushed by Steven Kiefer, a General Motors Co. executive whose 18-year-old son, Mitchel, was killed by a distracted driver in September 2016.

Mitchel Kiefer of Northville was driving on Interstate 96 in Ingham County back to Michigan State University in September 2016 when a woman driving more than 80 mph and distracted by her phone rear-ended him. He was pushed across the median and into oncoming traffic, where he was struck and killed instantly. Steven Kiefer started the Kiefer Foundation to combat distracted driving in Michigan and other states.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer acknowledged Kiefer's work and lobbied for the legislation during her 2019 State of the State address. The legislation passed by the House Tuesday is an expansion of bills that passed the House in 2019, only to die in the GOP-led Senate. The current bills were referred out of House Judiciary Committee in June. 

Steve Kiefer reads the prayer card on Nov. 16, 2021, for his 18-year-old son Mitchel Kiefer, who died in a crash caused by a distracted driver.

As the package moves to the Senate, Kiefer said he is hopeful leadership will support  the legislation and realize the same tragedy could befall anyone.

"I’m living proof that one day it could happen to you and your family," he said.

What bill does; fines involved 

The bipartisan legislation also would prohibit drivers from accessing a social networking site or viewing or recording a video on a mobile device.

Amendments approved Tuesday would require a six-month implementation period to familiarize drivers with the new law and create a five-year sunset after which lawmakers would have to evaluate the effectiveness of the bill before extending it.

Kiefer said he hopes a period of education as well as law enforcement training and resources would accompany the law if it should pass the Senate and reach Whitmer's desk. 

"We just have to make sure everybody knows that if you hold your phone in Michigan while driving, you’re going to get a big ticket,” he said.

Penalties for violating the law would include a $100 civil fine or 16 hours of community service for a first offense and a $250 civil fine for second or subsequent offense. The fine would double if someone were involved in a crash at the time of the violation.

Texting and driving has been banned in Michigan since 2010. In 2013, Kelsey's Law prohibited new drivers with a Level 1 or 2 license from driving while using a cell phone. The law was named after Kelsey Raffaele, 17, of Sault Ste. Marie, who died in a crash while speaking on her phone and driving in 2010.