I hope you are enjoying your summer and have had the chance to get outside and have fun with family and friends. Coming August 1, some new laws the Legislature approved this past session go into effect. Perhaps most notable among these is the new “Hands-Free” law, which means that drivers must use mobile devices only in hands-free mode while behind the wheel.
As many of us rely more and more on our mobile devices and have a greater appetite to “stay connected” constantly, when driving, it’s important that attention is placed on the road, and not on phones. Citations for texting while driving climbed 30 percent from 2017 to 2018. In Minnesota, distracted driving plays a role in one out of five crashes, resulting in an average of 45 deaths per year. I’m hopeful that the new law will reduce this number.
For many people, this certainly means their driving habits will have to change, and we will all need to avoid the temptation of grabbing our phones. Whether it means hooking up to a Bluetooth device, using a dash clip, turning on “do not disturb” mode while driving, or simply keeping the phone in your purse or pocket, it’s important for all of us to start adapting to this change, and ultimately, avoid tickets and fines. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Traffic Safety has launched a public awareness campaign, along with a website featuring comprehensive information available here including fact sheets in English, Hmong, Spanish and Somali. Below is a selection of Frequently Asked Questions.
What can I do under the new law?
The new law allows a driver to use their cell phone to make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts and get directions, but only by voice commands or single-touch activation without holding the phone. Remember, hands-free is not necessarily distraction-free.
What can’t I do with my phone under the new law?
You may not hold your phone in your hand. Also, a driver may not use their phone at any time for video calling, video live-streaming, Snapchat, gaming, looking at video or photos stored on the phone, using non-navigation apps, reading texts and scrolling or typing on the phone.
Can I ever hold my phone?
Yes. Hand-held phone use is allowed to obtain emergency assistance, if there is an immediate threat to life and safety, or when in an authorized emergency vehicle while performing official duties.
Can I use a GPS navigation device?
Yes. GPS and other systems that can only be used for navigation are exempt from the Hands-Free law. In-car screens and systems are also exempt. In both cases, most of these systems lock when the vehicle is moving.
Are there penalties?
Yes. The first ticket is $50 plus court fees and the second and later tickets are $275 plus court fees.
Will this make the roads safer?
Yes, in two ways. In 12 of 15 states with hands-free laws, traffic fatalities have decreased by an average of 15 percent [Source: National Safety Council and Insurance Federation based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data]. This law will also help law enforcement keep Minnesotans safe. Because drivers aren’t allowed to have a phone in their hand, it’ll be easier for law enforcement to see violations and take more effective action. Through public awareness and education, the goal is for Minnesotans to comply with the new law without enforcement action.
Let’s all commit to making the right choices behind the wheel, and taking these steps when driving:
Cell phones - Put the phone down, turn it off or place it out of reach.
Music and other controls - Pre-program radio stations and arrange music in an easy-to-access spot. Adjust mirrors and ventilation before traveling.
Navigation - Map out the destination and enter the GPS route in advance.
Eating and drinking - Avoid messy foods and secure drinks.
Children - Teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle and model proper driving behavior.
Passengers - Speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior and offer to help with anything that takes the driver's attention off the road.
By doing these, we can stop distracted driving in the state of Minnesota and with that, reduce the number of tragedies on Minnesota roads.
Please continue to contact me with any questions, feedback, or if I can ever be of assistance. It’s an honor to represent you.
Legislative Assistant: Alyssa Fritz, 651-296-2491