Police ready to enforce hands-free distracted driving law

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published June 22, 2023

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MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — A new state law goes into effect June 30 that will make it illegal to use a cellphone with your hands while operating a vehicle, and local police agencies are ready to enforce it.

Previously, the state barred motorists from texting while driving. On June 7, House Bill 4250 was signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, expanding the list of banned activities to include other phone uses while driving, such as browsing social media and watching or recording videos.

Simply put, if an officer sees you holding a phone while driving, even while idling at a red light, it could lead to tickets and fines. A court can also order offenders to complete a basic driver improvement course if they commit three or more such civil infractions within a three-year period.

The state is encouraging the use of voice-operated, hands-free technology for making and taking calls and texts while driving. There are also accessories that use clips, suction cups and other attachments to mount phones inside vehicles, so that they can be used without being held.   

Brent LeMerise — the incoming chief of the Madison Heights Police Department, and currently its deputy chief — noted that Madison Heights implemented an ordinance in 2022 that closely mirrors the new state law. In addition to banning the hands-on use of electronics while operating a vehicle, Madison Heights also bans other activities while behind the wheel, such as eating, reading, writing, grooming, and interacting with pets or unsecured cargo.

“I think it was pretty progressive of us to get it out in 2022,” LeMerise said. “We got out in front of this issue a year ago, and we’ve already been enforcing this fairly regularly throughout the year. This isn’t anything all that different from what we’ve been doing.

“The public reception has been good so far,” he added. “The officers haven’t had a difficult time enforcing it, and it’s not a difficult law for them or the public to understand. There’s a good reason Governor Whitmer passed this law. This is something that people, overall, want to see.”

Detective Lt. William Hamel, with the Hazel Park Police Department, said that the new state law is “finally addressing the distracted driving we all see on the road every day,” noting in an email that the state had more than 16,500 crashes related to distracted driving in 2021.

“The old bill prohibited using a device while ‘moving.’ The new law prohibits using a device while ‘operating.’ A person that is in a roadway but maybe stopped at a red light or in traffic is now prohibited from holding onto a device,” Hamel explained. “Persons that are distracted with their phones tend to drive erratically or hold up traffic. This conduct around other drivers can increase tension and promotes ‘road rage,’ as well as crash crashes.”

Hamel said that Hazel Park Police will continue to enforce all laws in accordance with the Michigan motor vehicle code.

“Our officers have enforced the older law as it was written, and when the new law takes effect, our officers will be enforcing it as they witness the violation,” Hamel said. “Officers will use a combination of education and enforcement when addressing the violation.”

LeMerise emphasized the necessity of the new state law, as well as the ordinance that the city already has in place.

“We’ve all seen distracted drivers while driving around ourselves. It’s incredibly dangerous. It’s scary,” LeMerise said. “In a moment’s notice, people can make poor decisions that distract them from paying attention to the environment that surrounds them, and then people get hurt. It’s important to always pay attention while operating a vehicle, to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, and to keep your hands away from any electronic devices that could distract you.”