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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL)

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Hands Free Cell Phone Bill Will Save Lives

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Distracted driving fatalities and injuries are on the rise. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, distracted or inattentive driving was a contributing factor in one in five crashes from 2013-2017, resulting in an average of 53 deaths and 216 serious injuries each year. As society evolves and our technology becomes more advanced, it’s vital for us as policymakers to find a solution and ways to combat these habits while behind the wheel in order to prevent more tragedy.

Minnesotans deserve to be safe on our roads, crosswalks, bike paths and sidewalks, and we want our friends, neighbors, and loved ones to be safe, too. That’s why the Minnesota House on Monday, March 18 approved the hands-free cell phone bill with my support as a co-sponsor by an overwhelming margin of 106-21. 

Current state law, which was enacted in 2008, bans emailing, texting, and using a web browser while driving. The hands-free cell phone bill applies the same enforcement and penalties to drivers who do not use their cell phone in a hands-free mode. There are exceptions for emergencies and one-touch activation functions.

Other states’ successes after passing ‘hands free’ into law cannot be ignored. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have hands-free cell phone laws. According to the Minnesota Safety Council (a Chapter of the National Safety Council), twelve out of these fifteen states had a decrease in fatalities within two years after their hands-free law went into effect.

Here in Minnesota, the ‘hands-free’ bill is not a new concept. Measures to address distracted driving began as early as 2001 when the first version of the bill was introduced at the Minnesota legislature. Since then, similar bills have been sponsored by various representatives, consistently each year, except for the 2011-2012 biennium. Most recently, you may remember that this bill was sponsored in past years by my predecessor, Mark Uglem. Representative Uglem was a Republican and I am a Democrat, but that doesn’t matter. Distracted driving kills people and impacts families in every corner of our state. Our whole community owes a major thank you to Mark Uglem for his tireless advocacy for safer roads.

As the only divided state legislature in the country, I’m optimistic we can come together with the Senate on this common-sense, lifesaving legislation. The other body still must bring their version of the bill to the Senate floor for a full vote. If it passes, slight differences in their bill will need to be resolved with the House’s version in a conference committee. Senator Hoffman and I will continue to work together to urge Senate leaders to schedule the bipartisan bill for a vote.

This work has been twenty years in the making. The time is now to take action. We are one step closer to a safer Minnesota. While the law won’t put an end to all forms of distracted driving, it reminds drivers that no text message or email is worth more than their safety or someone else’s life. I was honored to support this long overdue legislation at the Capitol.

Representative Zack Stephenson represents House District 36A, which includes the cities of Champlin and Coon Rapids. Rep. Stephenson encourages his constituents to share input and ideas with him at the Capitol anytime at 651-296-5513 or at rep.zack.stephenson@house.mn.