ST PAUL, Minn. — After months of talk and buildup the calendar turned to August and life changed significantly on the roads of Minnesota.
We're officially a hands-free state, which will hopefully keep cell phones out of people's hands and ultimately... save lives. It's definitely on people's minds: #HandsFreeMN was one of the top trending topics on Twitter Thursday morning.
“The hands-free law is a powerful example of Minnesotans turning personal tragedy into lifesaving advocacy,” said Governor Walz. “I am proud of the bipartisan effort that went into making this law. Distracted driving has impacted too many families in our state, and this commonsense law means more drivers will put down the phone, keep their eyes on the road, and ensure more Minnesotans make it home to their loved ones.”
The hands-free bill was signed into law in April but like many measures passed by the legislature did not become official until August 1. It didn't take long for law enforcement to start writing citations for those seen texting or talking while holding a smart phone.
Eagan Police, who have been notably aggressive in their enforcement of distracted driving, posted a stop on Twitter during which an officer witnessed a driver who was actually texting someone about the hands-free law. She was given a ticket.
Governor Walz and his 16-year-old daughter Hope posted a tutorial of sorts, with Hope schooling her dad in the ways of hands-free. It was lighthearted and funny, but the message behind the post was clear.
The need for hands-free eventually broke through partisan squabbling and special interests, and statistics compiled by the Department of Public Safety underline the need for a change.
- Distracted driving contributed to more than 60,000 (one in five) crashes from 2014- 2018 (preliminary).
- Distracted driving contributes to an average of 45 deaths and 204 life-changing injuries a year (2014 – 2018 preliminary).
- Continuing a six-year trend, texting citations climbed 30 percent from 2017 to 2018.
Here are the basic do's and don'ts of Minnesota's hands-free law.
- You can’t hold your phone while driving.
- You can place your phone anywhere in the vehicle as long as you are not holding it with your hand. If mounted on the windshield, it must be in the lower part of the windshield, not obstructing your view.
- 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.
- Drivers 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.
- GPS devices 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.
- 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.
- More FAQs are available at HandsFreeMN.org
For those who can't keep a phone out of their hand while driving or choose to ignore the new law, there are significant consequences.
- A citation for a first offense adds up to more than $120 including fine plus court costs
- A second or subsequent offense will cost an offending driver more than $300 in fines and court costs.
- Insurance rates are likely to increase.
- A driver who injures or kills someone under the hands-free law can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.