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Traffic Safety - Related FAQs

Seat Belts & Car Seats

Question: What is the law regarding the age and or weight a child should be before they can ride in the front seat? 

Answer: Michigan law requires children younger than age 4 to ride in a car seat in the rear seat if the vehicle has a rear seat. If all available rear seats are occupied by children under 4, then a child under 4 may ride in a car seat in the front seat. A child in a rear-facing car seat may only ride in the front seat if the air bag is turned off.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than 13 should be restrained in the rear seat of a vehicle for optimal protection. For more information on Michigan's child passenger safety laws, visit the Child Passenger Safety section of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning Web site.

Question: My child isn't 1 year old yet, but has outgrown the weight limit on his rear-facing infant seats. Can he be placed in a forward-facing car seat?

Answer: Although Michigan law permits a child to ride forward-facing once they reach 1 year old and 20 pounds, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly encourages parents to leave babies rear-facing until age 2. Studies have found that children younger than 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are rear-facing.

Question: Where can I find a list of car seat inspection locations so I can make sure my car seat is properly installed? 

Answer: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Safe Kids USA maintain lists of car seat inspection stations and car seat events.

Question: How can I find a list of recalls for my car or car seat?

Answer: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains the list of all recalls. You can also register your car seat so the manufacturer can automatically contact you if there is a recall. If your car is registered with the Michigan Secretary of State, and a part on your car is recalled, the car manufacturer will contact you through the Michigan Secretary of State's list of registered vehicles.

Question: Why aren't seat belts required on school buses?

Answer: Passengers on school buses are exempt from seat belt requirements. (MCL 257.710e)

School buses provide one of the safest forms of transportation because of their design and construction. School buses utilize compartmentalization in rows of heavily padded, high-back seats. During crashes, seat belts would negate compartmentalization. It is also feared that some students would receive internal injuries from seat belts through a process called submarining, the tendency for a body to slide downwards during impact.

Seat belts on school buses may also hamper rescue or evacuation efforts, as adults or older students may have to spend precious minutes unbuckling young or disoriented passengers. Unruly students could also use the heavy buckles as makeshift weapons, creating even more of a safety hazard. There is also the argument that seat belts would only protect passengers of school buses during unusual events such as roll-overs, but not other possible events such as fires or submersion.

For more information about school bus safety, visit the Michigan Department of Education Web site.

Question: What are the social and financial ramifications of not using seat belts?

Answer: Seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45 percent and serious injury by 50 percent for drivers and front-seat passengers. Average inpatient costs for crash victims who do not use seat belts are 50 percent higher than for victims who are belted. Seat belts not only save lives, but save money as well. When a driver or passenger chooses not to wear a seat belt, they are putting themselves and others at risk.

Consequences include:

  • Increased chance of injury or death
  • Increased chance of others in the vehicle being injured by the unrestrained individual
  • Setting a poor example for children; studies show very low belt use by children when adults do not buckle up
  • Possible loss of skills

The fine for not wearing a seat belt correctly, per MCL 257.907(2), is $25. An additional $40 statutory assessment brings the citation total to $65. There are no points for this infraction.

Other costs for those involved in a crash may include:

  • Increased financial burden on families of the injured or deceased paying for hospital care or funeral arrangements
  • Lost income if the victim cannot work because of injury or death
  • Lost income to the employer of the injured or killed
  • Higher insurance premiums (health, auto, and life insurance)
  • Increased strain on social welfare programs such as Social Security disability and Worker's Compensation

For more information, read Myths and Facts About Seat Belts.

Crash Ratings & Recalls

Question: I want to find the crash test rating of my car (or a car I would like to purchase). Where is the list?

Answer: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains the list of crash test results as well as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Question: Where can I report a safety-related defect in my car?

Answer: Call the United States Department of Transportation's Auto Safety Hotline at (888) DASH-2-DOT or visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Teen Drivers

Question: My child is about to enter driver's training and I would like to find out more about the Graduated Driver Licensing system in Michigan. Where can I get information?

Answer: Visit the Michigan Department of State  

Question: Can teen drivers talk or text on their cell phones while driving?

Answer: Michigan law bans texting while driving for all drivers and Kelsey's Law prohibits cell phone use for Level 1 and Level 2 license holders.

Impaired Driving

Question: What does it take for a driver to reach a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08 percent and be driving drunk?

Answer: This varies from person to person based on gender, body weight, what and when an individual has last eaten, what they are drinking, and how fast they are drinking.

In short, the answer is different for almost every person. Under normal circumstances, a 120-pound woman can reach a .08 BAC level after two drinks in one hour and a 180-pound man can be at .08 BAC after four drinks in one hour.

A drink is either one shot of 80-proof liquor, a five-ounce glass of wine, or a 12-ounce beer, all of which contain the same amount of alcohol.

Other factors to consider are a person's driving ability is affected by a blood-alcohol concentration as low as .02 percent and some people are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than others, especially those who are infrequent drinkers because they take longer to metabolize alcohol. Motorists can be arrested at any BAC if a police officer feels they are driving impaired.

Alcohol can also react with common medications. For example, alcohol will increase the drowsiness caused by antihistamines in common cold and allergy medicines.

With so many variables and unknowns involving alcohol and driving, the best way to be safe is to avoid alcohol if driving. If you do drink, call a cab, enlist a sober designated driver, or stay at a friend's house.

Question: How is the high BAC law different than driving with a BAC of .08?

Answer: In Michigan, a driver is considered to be operating a vehicle while intoxicated when he or she has a BAC of .08 or greater. Individuals convicted with a BAC of .17 or higher face enhanced penalties for their first offense of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Under the high BAC law, the penalties include increased jail time, higher fines, a one-year license suspension with optional restricted operation after 45 days, and participation in a mandatory rehabilitation program. A driver choosing to comply with the restricted operation provision of the law after a 45-day license suspension may only operate a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device.

An ignition interlock device is a breath alcohol measuring instrument requiring drivers to register their BAC and preventing a vehicle from starting if the device measures a BAC of .025 or above, the standard established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In addition, the device requires a retest within the first five to 15 minutes of driving, as well as repeated retests when driving longer periods. This is meant to prevent the driver from asking someone else to start the vehicle and from drinking once the vehicle is idling or in motion. The system is designed to provide the driver plenty of time to submit the retests safely. If a driver fails a retest an auditory or visual warning alarm will occur while the vehicle is running.

Research has shown the use of an ignition interlock device reduces recidivism among first-time offenders and repeat offenders while the device is in the vehicle. The device is most effective when combined with a rehabilitation program.

For more information, visit the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, Traffic Safety Training Program.

Question: A person becomes a legal adult at age 18, but why is the drinking age 21?

Answer: In 1978, the state's minimum drinking age was returned to 21 years old after six years at 18. During the period when the drinking age was lowered, drunk driving arrests, crashes, fatal crashes, and crashes involving alcohol all increased.

When the drinking age was lowered to 18 in 1972, crashes involving drunk drivers ages 18-20 more than doubled in one year. By 1978, the last year of the lowered driving age, that number had more than tripled.

In July 1984, legislation was passed that set the national minimum legal drinking age at 21. Since then, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates about 900 lives are saved each year by the 21-year-old drinking age law. Further, Mothers Against Drunk Driving research has found several other societal concerns.

  • A lower drinking age promotes unsafe binge drinking. Youth drinking rates have dropped since the age 21 law went into effect. From 1983 (the year before the 21-year-old drinking age law) to 1988 (the year when all states had adopted it), binge drinking among 12th graders dropped 15 percent.
  • Research has shown that parts of a teen's brain, especially the part that controls reasoning and cognitive ability, continues to develop into their early twenties, and drinking, especially heavy drinking, can affect memory and reasoning in adolescence, the results of which can be long lasting.

NHTSA found that between 1982 and 1998 there were 61 percent fewer drinking drivers involved in fatal crashes under age 21 and a 56 percent decrease among 21-24 year olds. The agency has concluded "…unequivocally that minimum legal drinking age 21 laws reduce youth drinking and driving, as measured by traffic crash involvements."

Speed Limits

Question: How are speed limits set?

Answer: Traffic engineers and police officers examine many traffic and road conditions to determine a reasonable speed limit. These include the number and type of crashes, speed of vehicles, hidden hazards, and the number of cars, pedestrians, and bicycles. Also considered are physical conditions of the road such as sidewalks, hills, curves, lanes, driveways, intersections, roadway surfaces, and traffic controls.

Setting speed limits is largely counter intuitive. There are many myths related to speed limits, including a belief that drivers will travel 10 mph over the speed limit.

The primary factor in setting speed limits is the 85th percentile speed. The 85th percentile speed is the speed at, or below which, 85 percent of the traffic moves. An appropriate speed limit is set within five mph of the 85th. Experience shows that 85 percent of the drivers adhere to properly established speed limits which they feel are reasonable, comfortable, and safe for conditions at the time. Police officers can use the 85th percentile speed to target enforcement for speeding to the 15 percent of drivers who are not in compliance with the speed limit.

The public can bring to the attention of public officials what they perceive to be speeding problems, however, speed limits should not be set based on casual observations or opinion. There are often other engineering solutions available to address perceived problems and public agencies have the responsibility to establish speed limits based upon thorough traffic engineering surveys.

Motorcycles & Mopeds

Question: What is Michigan's motorcycle helmet law?

Answer: Under MCL 257.658, a motorcycle operator in Michigan is not required to wear a helmet if all of the following apply:

  • The operator is at least 21 years old
  • The operator has held his or her motorcycle endorsement for at least two years or has successfully passed an approved motorcycle safety course
  • The operator has at least $20,000 in medical insurance coverage

A motorcycle passenger is not required to wear a helmet if all the following conditions apply:

  • The passenger is at least 21 years old
  • The operator has at least $20,000 in medical insurance coverage that includes any passengers or the passenger has at least $20,000 in medical insurance coverage

Any motorcyclist in Michigan who does not meet these provisions must wear a Department of Transportation-approved motorcycle helmet when operating a motorcycle or when riding as a passenger on a motorcycle.

The law does not require a motorcycle operator to carry or present proof of duration of endorsement or successful completion of a safety course. Neither operator nor passenger is required to carry or present proof of the $20,000 in medical coverage.

Michigan also requires motorcyclists to wear either shatterproof goggles, a face shield, or have a windshield to protect the eyes if the vehicle is traveling more than 35 mph.

For more information about motorcycles and motorcycle safety, visit the Michigan Department of State Web site.

Question: What is the definition of a moped and what are the laws governing its use on the road?

Answer: A moped is a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with a motor which has no more than 50cc piston displacement if gasoline, or producing two brake horsepower of 1500 watts or less, if electric. The moped must have a power drive system that does not require shifting gears and cannot have a top speed exceeding 30 mph on level surfaces. If a moped exceeds any of these thresholds, it is considered a motorcycle and a rider must obtain a valid motorcycle endorsement and insurance.

To operate a moped on public roadways and highways, a driver must have a valid operator or chauffeur license. If a driver does not have either of these licenses and is above the age of 15, they may apply for a moped license at a Secretary of State office.

To obtain a moped license, a driver must pass a vision, knowledge, and traffic sign test. No driver education course or road skills test is required. If the driver is under age 18, a parent or legal guardian must sign the license application. Moped licenses must be surrendered upon receiving a regular operator or chauffeur license.

Although federal manufacturing guidelines identify electric bicycles as consumer products, Michigan traffic law classifies them as vehicles which fall under moped regulations for licensing and use.

Some basic laws for moped use are:

  • Moped operators under the age of 19 must wear a properly fitted helmet
  • Mopeds cannot be operated on freeways, between lanes of traffic, on sidewalks, or bicycle paths
  • A moped shall not be used to carry more than one person at a time

Question: Is there a specific age or size that children can legally ride as a passenger on a motorcycle?

Answer: There is no minimum age for a child to ride on a motorcycle, but MCL 257.658a states that "a passenger shall not ride on a motorcycle unless his or her feet can rest on the assigned foot rests or pegs except...due to a permanent physical disability."

Distracted Driving

Question: What is Michigan's texting law? 

Answer: Michigan law prohibits drivers from reading, manually typing, or sending a text message while operating a moving motor vehicle on a street or highway. Exceptions are in place for reporting crashes, crimes, or other emergencies. This law does not prohibit making cell phone calls and does not apply to GPS units affixed to the vehicle.

A driver who becomes distracted by using a cell phone and commits a traffic violation can still be charged with a violation such as careless driving or improper lane use if drifting in and out of the lane.

Some municipalities have enacted local ordinances prohibiting cell phone use while driving within their jurisdiction. Any municipality that establishes such an ordinance must post notification at their jurisdictional boundaries to alert motorists.


Question: Where does the money collected from traffic citations go?

Answer: The primary purpose of traffic enforcement is to reduce traffic crashes. Traffic laws are meant to positively impact driving behaviors that can help prevent crashes and/or reduce the injuries and likelihood of a fatal injury. However, some motorists believe that revenue is a motivating factor for traffic enforcement.

Money received by the court from a traffic citation is made up of three components: fines, costs, and statutory assessments.

Fines are the penalty portion of the citation money received by the court. For violations written under state law, usually by state troopers or county deputies, 100 percent of the fines are applied to the support of public libraries and county law libraries. For violations written under local ordinance, usually by municipal police officers or some county deputies assigned to townships, 30 percent of the fines are applied to the library fund, while 70 percent is given back to the municipality.

Costs are the portion of the citation money used to pay the expenses to process the citation. Costs are capped at $100 unless specifically set otherwise.

Statutory Assessments
Statutory assessments are additional charges, usually $40, applied to most violations to fund specific programs designated by the Legislature.

The $40 statutory assessment on a typical civil infraction citation includes:

  • $10 to the Secondary Road Patrol Program which provides funding to sheriff offices for county secondary road traffic enforcement
  • $7.65 to the Court Equity Fund
  • $7.44 to the Highway Safety Fund used for State Police recruit schools and traffic enforcement
  • $3.99 to the State Court Fund
  • $3.72 to the Jail Reimbursement Program Fund which provides funding to sheriff offices to house felons for the state
  • $3.72 to the Michigan Justice Training Fund used for training police agencies and prosecutors
  • $1.68 to the State Forensic Lab Fund
  • $0.855 to the Drug Treatment Courts Fund
  • $0.345 to the Legislative Retirement System
  • $0.30 to the State Treasurer for monitoring
  • $0.30 to the State Court Administrative Office for collections and audits

Other violations, including misdemeanors, felonies, and non-traffic civil infractions, have a slightly different formula.

Question: Are traffic cameras legal? Are they used in Michigan?

Answer: Some states allow automated enforcement of speed and red light violations using cameras owned by private companies. Automated enforcement cameras may not be used in Michigan. A police officer may issue a civil infraction citation only if the officer observes a violation, investigates a crash, or receives authorization from the prosecutor to a citizen's complaint.

Traffic monitoring devices are permitted at railroad crossings. These devices are not used for enforcement purposes.

Commercial Vehicles

Question: What are the health requirements of a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) driver, and why are they important?

Answer: CMV drivers face specific challenges when driving due of the size and weight of the vehicle itself, the demands of work schedules, and lengthy distances traveled. Because of these additional requirements, the professional driver's health is important for public safety as well as their own safety while on the road.

A number of medical conditions can affect a driver's ability to perform work safely. Some of these conditions include, but are not limited to, loss or injury of a limb, hearing or eyesight problems, cardiovascular and blood pressure issues, physiological health, diabetes, epilepsy and other diseases and conditions. For a complete list of medical qualifications, visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Web site.

It is important for CMV drivers to submit to routine health screenings and become aware of existing conditions. Most of these conditions can be treated effectively so a driver may continue to work. The health standards apply to:

  • Drivers of vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or Gross Combination Weight Rating of 10,001 lbs; or
  • Drivers of vehicles designed or used to transport more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
  • Drivers of vehicles designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
  • Drivers hauling hazardous materials in a quantity requiring a placard.


Question: Where can I find free traffic safety public information materials (posters, brochures, flyers, etc.)?

Answer: The Michigan State Police, Departmental Services Division, Highway Safety Resource Materials Unit houses and distributes traffic safety materials published by the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning. To order materials, visit the Traffic Safety Materials page.