GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — More than four months since Michigan made it illegal to hold a cellphone while driving, police are finding that many drivers aren’t understanding or following the law.
Texting and driving has been illegal in Michigan since 2010. Holding your phone or another electronic device while driving has only been against the law since late June.
“We still are seeing some individuals that are stating they have not seen that this was a law,” said Michigan State Police Lieutenant Michelle Robinson. “They thought they still couldn’t just text and drive.”
It’s not just holding phones either.
“They are on laptops while they’re driving down the roadway,” Robinson said.
A traffic sergeant for the Shelby Township Police Department in Macomb County told Bridge Michigan in October many drivers still think you just can’t text while driving.
MSP has focused on educating the public through news releases and media interviews since the law went into effect June 30.
“We still do have a large number of violators that are driving distracted,” Robinson said.
But if troopers catch you on your phone, police say they will pull you over.
“It’s the officer’s discretion as far as if they will issue a citation as well,” Robinson said.
Between June 30 and Nov. 15, MSP officers in the 6th District cited 127 drivers and gave 88 verbal warnings. The Kent County Sheriff’s Office told News 8 it’s given out two dozen tickets since the law took effect.
Like other departments, Grand Rapids police say the point of pulling drivers over is to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“It’s been a lot of education with individuals that haven’t been quite up to speed,” Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom told News 8 Thursday morning. “We take that as one of our jobs, to educate the public. That’s generally what officers are doing.”
“We certainly don’t have a quota,” Winstrom added. “There’s no financial incentive. Our officers aren’t told to get out there and write tickets to bring in revenue for the city.”
But don’t think you’ll get off with just a warning, because police do give out tickets. The first one that GRPD gave was to a woman on her phone who was stopped at a green light. Winstrom called it an “egregious violation.”
“(The officer) actually pulled alongside her,” Winstrom said. “While he was waiting for her still to go as the light had been green for many seconds, she had her face down and she was texting. She sent what appeared to be several texts on her phone before she realized the light was green.”
Holding your phone for directions is still against the law. MSP recommended getting a phone holder and attaching it to your windshield or dashboard.
“If you have your phone in front of you, you can look at it, but you don’t actually have to have it on your hands as you’re driving,” Robinson said. “That’s the intent of the hands-free law. You have both hands on the wheel.”
More than 15,000 crashes in 2022 were at least partly caused by distracted driving, according to MSP data. They resulted in 53 deaths.
More than 1,300 of the crashes were in Kent County, causing three deaths.
“We don’t want anybody to get severely injured,” Robinson said. “It’s causing crashes out there. If people just put their phones down and continue to drive cautiously, that will decrease our crashes out on the roadways.”
Troopers also continue to see reckless driving and some drivers not wearing seatbelts, Robinson said.
“We’re seeing a lot of very aggressive drivers that they’re swerving in and out of traffic at high rates of speed,” Robinson said. “We’re finding individuals that are taking matters into their own hands.”
“Be polite, be patient with one another,” she added.