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Conference committee strikes agreement on distracted driving bill

Rep. Frank Hornstein, right, and Sen. Scott Newman, co-chairs of the conference committee on HF50, confer after coming to an agreement and adopting the committee report. April 8. Photo by Paul Battaglia

A bill that would require Minnesota drivers to use hands-free technology when making calls or sending messages behind the wheel is a step closer to becoming law.

House and Senate negotiators on Monday reached agreement on the bodies’ differing versions of HF50, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls). It would bar drivers from holding a cellphone or other wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle by requiring the use of a hands-free device.

The House and Senate versions of the proposed legislation were largely similar. Conferees adopted an amendment that, in part, clarifies what constitutes an electronic message, specifies types of stored content that could not be accessed while driving, and clarifies exceptions to the prohibition.

The amendment also eliminates a provision in the House bill that would have required a review and analysis of traffic stops in Minnesota.

Originally passed 106-21 in the House and 56-10 in the Senate, where Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) is the sponsor, it now returns to both bodies for re-passage.

If signed into law, the bill would make Minnesota the 18th state in the nation — plus Washington, D.C. — to require hands-free cellphone use if drivers want to make a call or call up directions at the wheel. Gov. Tim Walz has said he supports the legislation.

HF50 is “an incredible step forward that will save lives,” said Col. Matt Langer of the State Patrol.

Distracted driving caused roughly 20 percent of crashes on Minnesota roadways from 2013 to 2017, according to Department of Public Safety statistics, and killed an average of 53 people in the state each year.


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