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Hands-free enforcement consistent in MN over three years since bill passed

Even during the pandemic, officers issued between 1,345 and 1,735 citations per month on average, but the number of distracted driving deaths has held fairly steady.

MINNEAPOLIS — Vijay Dixit from Eden Prairie was perhaps the most vocal advocate for Minnesota's hands-free bill when it passed in 2019. He lost his daughter Shreya in 2007 to a distracted driving crash. 

Friday would have been her birthday.

"She would be 34. Oh my God, she would be married, maybe even with a couple kids," Dixit said.

In evaluating the law banning holding cell phones or other devices while driving that has been in effect for three years, Dixit says he thinks things are going in the right direction. 

But a lot of distracted driving remains.

"Go on any road. You see people distracted," Dixit said.

Through public data requests, KARE 11 News has analyzed the enforcement and effect of the hands-free law.

In August 2019, the first month the hands-free bill was in effect, officers wrote 2,313 tickets statewide. In the first 12 months, they issued a total of 20,817.

The next full year, which included the COVID-19 pandemic, they wrote 17,891 tickets for hands-free violations.

RELATED: MN traffic deaths down from last year, still higher than pre-pandemic

And over the past year – a total of 16,125 tickets.

That's a grand total of 54,833 hands-free citations.

Compared that number to another driving law that went into effect the same month -- the so-called "slow-poke" law, which means slow drivers who don't move out of the left lane can be ticketed.

In that same three-year span, only 66 drivers have been ticketed for that violation.

When it comes to distracted driving deaths, the impact of the hands-free bill is hard to evaluate. 

There was an average of 30 deaths per year classified by the Department of Public Safety as caused by distracted driving in the three years prior to the bill. There were an average of 28 deaths per year in the three years afterward.

DPS Highway Safety officials tell KARE 11 News the increased speeding and drunk driving that came during the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the numbers.

Dixit, an advocate for continuing the education and following the data, says:

"Starting now should be the real start of the hands-free law impact [in order to avoid aberrations in the data]," Dixit said.

RELATED: DPS: DWI arrests up 10% from last summer

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