You may remember seeing a television commercial not too long ago for a major auto insurance provider that featured a pig driving a sporty convertible along a scenic road. When pulled over by a police officer, the pig was asked to produce his vehicle registration and proof of insurance. The pig, in response, used his smartphone to show the officer an electronic certificate of insurance. As implausible as the premise that a pig could use a smart phone and drive a car might be, what really got my attention was the electronic certificate of insurance; to my knowledge, such a thing was not acceptable in Michigan. Knowing that the law is slow to change and rarely keeps up with available technology, I did some digging.
As we all know, pursuant to longstanding Michigan law, upon request of a police officer, the owner or operator of a motor vehicle is required to produce proof that the vehicle is properly insured. To date, such proof has always been in the form of a hard copy of a certificate of no-fault insurance provided by the insurance carrier. However, on October 6, 2015, Governor Snyder signed into law Public Act 135 of the Public Acts of 2015, thereby amending Section 328 of the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code.
This new law provides, in part: (1) that a certificate of no-fault automobile insurance in electronic form is acceptable proof that insurance is in force for the vehicle described in the certificate; (2) that if the owner or operator of the vehicle displays to a police officer an electronic copy of the certificate of insurance using an electronic device, the officer may not manipulate the device in order to view any other information it may contain; (3) that the person displaying the certificate of insurance on his or her electronic device is not presumed to have consented to the wholesale search of the electronic device; (4) that the police officer may require the person to forward an electronic copy of the insurance certificate to a specified location so that the officer may view it in a setting where it is safe to verify that the information in the electronic copy is valid and accurate; and (5) that the state of Michigan or the local law enforcement agency, or an employee of the state or of the local law enforcement agency, is not liable for damage to, or loss of, the electronic device that may occur as a result of the police officer viewing the electronic copy of the insurance certificate, regardless of whether the officer or the owner or operator of the vehicle was in physical possession of the electronic device at the time the damage or loss occurred.
In other words, stated simply, as of January 5, 2016, you can use your smartphone to prove to a police officer that your vehicle is properly insured, the police officer cannot search whatever else may be on your smartphone, and the officer is not responsible if the smart phone is dropped or damaged in the process. Because this is a matter of state law, the fact that Michigan has decided to allow for this is not necessarily reflective of what other states may or may not allow. And, you might want to check with your insurance carrier to see if they provide an app for this (pigs not included).