Michigan cellphone ban is a myopic approach to distracted driving

The numbers indicate that phone use is only a sliver of the problem facing motorists in Michigan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law several bills on June 7 — House bills 4250, 4251, and 4252 — that prohibit motorists from using a cellphone driving, unless the phone is a hands-free mode. It was already unlawful to text and drive, and the new laws will cover cellphone and internet use.

Is there reason to believe the law will prevent car crashes? Not on a large scale.

There were 282,640 crashes in Michigan in 2021, with 6% the result of distracted driving. Which means there were 266,000 accidents not attributed to distracted driving, according to Michigan Traffic Crash Facts.

Additionally, most distracted driving did not owe to cellphone use.

People who were eating, drinking, grooming and so on made up 35% of distracted driving accidents, while only 17% of accidents occured due to cellphone use.

The governor has signed no new laws to make the other distractions unlawful. Another 35% of crashes that involve distracted driving owed to drivers looking at billboards and other external scenery.

There were 59 fatalities from distracted driving in 2021, which accounted for 5% of total fatalities. If fatalities are equally distributed across various reasons for distracted driving, then 10 deaths per year are attributed to using a cellphone while driving.

A similar law in Ohio reduced cellphone use by only 9%, according to a new report. If there are similar outcomes in Michigan, the new law could reduce the number of fatalities on the road by less than one per year.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.