Texting While Driving in Michigan – What You Need to Know


Texting while Driving in Michigan – What You Need to Know.


Grand Rapids, Michigan Criminal Defense Lawyer Bruce Alan Block

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Michigan joined many other states when it made texting or emailing while driving a car illegal. Michigan's law bans reading, typing, and sending text messages or emails on a cell phone, iPad, iPhone, droid, smart tablet, or a similar device while the car is moving.


The actual law is surprisingly readable:


"A person shall not read, manually type, or send a text message on a wireless 2-way communication device that is located in the person's hand or in the person's lap, including a wireless telephone used in cellular telephone service or personal communication service, while operating a motor vehicle that is moving on a highway or street in this state. As used in this subsection, a wireless 2-way communication device does not include a global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the motor vehicle."


The law specifically excludes GPS navigators and TomTom map devices SO LONG as they are physically attached to the car (i.e. not in your hand or lap). Passengers are not covered by the ban on text messaging and emailing, although they could potentially get the driver in trouble by asking them to read a text or email.


The anti-texting law also includes the usual exceptions: you can text while driving if you need to report an accident, prevent theft, and protect your safety; police and firemen are excluded. There are no driver's license points assessed nor is there a "bad driver" responsibility tax charged against the driver who commits the infraction.


Unlike California, Illinois, and elsewhere, Michigan allows the driver of a vehicle to dial and talk with a cell phone in their hand — no headset is required.


This offense is a civil infraction meaning that like a speeding ticket, it is not a criminal offense. A first offense nets you a $100 fine, a second offense is $200. Of course your car insurance company may decide to increase your insurance rates.


Texting Law is a Primary Offense


The law makes this infraction a "primary offense," which means the police can stop your car based only on a "reasonable suspicion" you were texting and driving.


You do NOT Have to Show the Police Your iPhone, iPad or Droid.


Because this is a civil infraction, police officers cannot require that you show them your phone or smart device. The police can, and will of course, ask you to voluntarily show it to them, but if you politely decline, they cannot seize the phone by force nor confiscate it as evidence. If an officer ignores your refusal and just grabs the phone from you, an attorney can ask the court to suppress the evidence gathered and have your case dismissed.


Most drivers don't know their right against self-incrimination or may be scared into handing over their phone. If they were texting, emailing, or reading a text message or email they will be likely ticketed. Those who don't consent, don't hand over their phone, and don't answer incriminating questions will probably not get a ticket. Likewise, if your phone is locked and you do not give up the access code, there will be no evidence that can be used against you.


Many drivers confess under the mistaken belief this will make it easier on them – wrong.


Those who confess will be ticketed; those who keep quiet will not. If stopped, you are only required to show your driver's license, car registration, and insurance (and of course obey the lawful commands of the police officer). All other questions can be politely declined. This is still America and you have the right to choose to not incriminate yourself by not answering incriminating questions.


You should also be aware of the data and pictures that might be on your phone. If you do decide to hand over your phone to a police officer, he may well check the phone and find data or private pictures you were not intending to share. With sexting and mega-gig phones everywhere, you would be wise to keep your phone and iPad or tablet free of compromising pictures.


The Police Cannot Get a Search Warrant.


Police officers cannot get a search warrant nor a subpoena to search your phone because they think you may have violated the anti-texting ban. They can only try to obtain consent from you – the driver. Remember, absent your consent, police officers MAY NOT lawfully seize a driver's phone to examine the contents.


Once stopped police will make often make leading statements to try and get you to incriminate yourself. These questions are textbook and hard to ignore: "I saw you texting," or "it smells like weed." Remember, you can politely decline to answer any questions and politely refuse a consent search of your car.


Lingering Questions.


The law does not define what is meant by the term "moving." Does this mean that you can text or email if your car is stopped at a red light? The answer is not clear; we think this question could be answered either way. Arguably, the car is not moving because you are stopped at a red light. On the other hand, your car is in a lane of traffic, has just finished moving and is about to start moving when the light changes…  We think a judge could decide your car was "moving" even though it was not moving. We have seen stranger interpretations. Best practice would be to pull off the road into a parking lot and then text or email (preferably with the car in park).


The anti-texting law does not seem to prohibit a driver from looking up an address or phone number, although there are other laws on the books that prohibit distracted driving. And of course if you are driving erratically because you are somehow using an app on the phone that distracts you, you could get hit with careless driving (3 points) or even reckless driving (6 points). Injure or kill someone because of your phone habits and things get bad really fast.


The word "operating a motor vehicle" has been broadly interpreted (usually in the drunk driving context) to include just about any activity where there is a driver behind the wheel of a car. Some examples of where a person was "operating" a car include: sitting behind the steering wheel of a car (engine off); using the car as a boom-box; sleeping in a car, and more. From the numerous cases on this definition it is likely that anyone behind the steering wheel of a car will be deemed to be "operating" the vehicle. Keep in mind however, that the texting statute requires that the car actually be "moving" while the drunk driving statute does not.


How can a police officer tell the difference between a driver dialing a phone number and a driver sending or reading a text message? ESP? We suppose anyone under the age of 30 will be a prime suspect. Will the officer know how to check for emails or recent text messages on your brand of phone?


texting while driving tickets will be given to those who confess.


Common sense suggests that anything that distracts you while driving should be avoided. As the number of distracted drivers involved in car accidents increase, the laws will continue to get tougher. A two-thousand pound car going 45 miles an hour can be a very destructive object.


State and local prosecutors take a very dim view of those who drive distracted by anything. There are many other driving offenses, such as careless driving, reckless driving (a misdemeanor), and even negligent homicide. One unfortunate young person drove through a red light while talking on a cell phone and killed several people. The driver was charged and convicted of Negligent Homicide. Their crime was allowing the cell phone to distract them such that they ran a red light. 


Contact us for help!


If you are charged with any type of driving offense, even a simple speeding ticket, disobeying a stop sign, texting while driving or a similar charge, do yourself and your future a BIG favor and talk with an attorney before going to court.


Never plead guilty or just pay a ticket without first talking to a lawyer.


There are few cases a seasoned criminal defense lawyer and ticket defense lawyer cannot change for the better. So often we have been able to get tickets reduced to a lesser charge. Get experienced, capable legal advice from a knowledgeable Michigan criminal defense attorney.


Contact our Criminal Defense Lawyer in Grand Rapids, Michigan at (616) 676-8770. We are located just miles away from many colleges and universities in West Michigan.




Bruce Alan Block, PLC

Attorney and Counselor at Law
1155 East Paris Ave. SE Suite 300, Grand Rapids, MI 49546
Phone: (616) 676-8770


Serving Clients throughout Western Michigan, in Grand Rapids, Ada, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Cascade, Wyoming, Byron Center, Wyoming, Caledonia, Cascade, Rockford, Holland, Grand Haven, Grandville, Kent, Barry, Ottawa, Muskegon and Ionia County.


We represent college students from Calvin College, Aquinas, Grand Valley State University, Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids Community College, Michigan State University, and Western Michigan University