Texting and driving is illegal in Michigan, but local and state law enforcement agents and experts say the law is difficult to enforce.
Public Act 60 of 2010 prohibits operating a motor vehicle while reading, typing, or sending a text message on an electronic wireless device.
There have been 43 texting and driving citations so far this year in Macomb, 199 in Oakland and 185 Wayne, according to Michigan State Police.
Michigan State Police Sgt. Mike Church said the texting and driving statute is difficult to enforce, especially with the advancements in smart phones since the law was put in effect in 2010.
When an officer pulls over someone for texting and driving, which is a civil infraction, the phone can’t be seized for proof. “It makes it difficult,” Church said.
And since technology has advanced since the law was passed, drivers could be using their phones to scroll for music, view a webpage or view a map. “The only thing (the law) seems to prohibit is text messaging,” said Church.
While flawed, the law is a good starting point, Church said. “It is a very good place to start,” he said. “Distracted driving is very dangerous.”
Birmingham Police Commander Terry Kiernan said just three violations for distracted driving were written last year in the city. He notes that when someone is text messaging while driving, they usually are violating some other traffic law at the same time such as running a red light or stop sign, which officers are more likely to write the ticket for.
"In my opinion, a lot of drivers seem to think that operating a motor vehicle has become a secondary task and texting, radio station searching, cell phone calling, GPS operations, etc. becomes the primary task," said Cmdr. Kiernan. "When that happens, drivers are not paying full attention to the road and that’s when accidents happen, some minor and some serious."
In Michigan last year, drivers were reported to be distracted in 3,986 crashes, and using cell phones in 821 crashes.
But, the actual numbers of deaths, injuries and accidents are likely even higher, said Dominique Matich, a traffic safety specialist for the TIA, because police don't report distracted driving or cellular use in an accident unless the driver reports it as a factor.
"There are some studies out there that equate texting to be the same as drunk driving in the operation of a motor vehicle," said Cmdr. Kiernan.