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Stateside Podcast: Drive hands free or pay big fee

 A view from behind the shoulder of a jovial man driving in his car. He rests his left hand on the steering wheel, but his right hand holds a smartphone.
Dan Netter
Michigan Radio
Stateside production assistant Dan Netter pretends to check his Twitter DMs while driving. Starting June 30, drivers like Dan will face fines for holding their phone for any reason other than reporting a crime or in an emergency situation.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the “hands free driving" bill into law on Wednesday, June 7. It's the second set of legislation in Michigan aimed at reducing distracted driving. The law bans drivers from using a phone for any reason, save for reporting a crime or in another emergency situation.

No more checking your email at a red light, no holding your phone to your ear at a red light, no finding the just-right song in your shuffle. Just driving.

Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network’s capitol news correspondent, said the law is not the only one in Michigan’s books to deal with distracted driving. Michigan has had a texting-while-driving ban on the books for years, but this law expands the reach.

The penalties for the law upon first offense include a $100 fine, or 16 hours of community service, or both. It increases to $250, or 24 hours of service, or both for a second offense, Pluta said. But once a driver reaches three offenses, they will be required to take a road safety refresher class.

These bills did not sail through the legislature with ease, however. The law takes law enforcement officers at their word when pulling people over for holding a phone. Some Democrats worried officers might use the law as pretext for pulling someone over, and lead to the infringement of the civil rights of people of color.

“There will be a three-year study that collects data on who gets pulled over where, and slicing and dicing race and ethnicity, age — things like that. And then report back to make a decision on whether or not to continue down this road ... or maybe make some adjustments,” Pluta said.

The law will take effect June 30, right before Michiganders hit the road for their Fourth of July weekend.

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"Golden Grass" by Sour Mash, courtesy of Blue Dot Sessions

"Magic Delights" by Marc Jackson Burrows, courtesy of Audio Network

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Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.
Dan Netter joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2022 and is a senior at Michigan State University studying Journalism and Social Relations & Policy.