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Minnesota Goes “Hands-Free” to Prevent Distracted Driving

 

Minnesota is asking drivers to put their phones down while driving. 

On August 1, Minnesota joins 16 other states and Washington D.C. in banning handheld cellphone use behind the wheel. While the new “hands-free” law doesn’t apply to emergency situations or those driving outside of traffic, it goes a step further than other Minnesota statutes. Other laws have previously banned texting, using email, or browsing the internet while driving.

Even with other statutes in place, between 2013-2017 Minnesota authorities found that distracted drivers were a contributing factor in 1 in 5 crashes. This resulted in an average of 53 deaths and 216 serious injuries annually.

Texting citations have also been on the rise, with the number jumping 30% from 2017 to 2018 alone. While 2012 saw just over 2,000 citations in a year, 2018 saw the number of texting citations skyrocket to over 9,500.

This new law hopes to stop this upward trend and lessen the likelihood of distracted driving accidents across the state.

 

Making roads safer for everyone

There’s persuasive evidence this new law will help lower traffic accidents significantly. Similar laws in other states have resulted in dramatic improvements in road safety, and Minnesota is hoping to follow the trend.  In 12 of the 15 states that have hands-free laws, traffic fatalities have dropped 15%. Minnesota officials expect a similar decline.

Avoiding cell phone use in your vehicle

With the law in effect as of August 1, it’s important to make sure any cell phone use is hands-free going forward. The State Patrol has compiled a list of several suggestions to help drivers comply with the law. 

Here are just a few ways to avoid cell phone use as you drive:

  • Put your phone out of sight and out of reach
  • Use a single earphone with a microphone for calls (note that wearing two earphones while you drive is illegal in Minnesota)
  • Use a Bluetooth speaker or earpiece 
  • If you have the relevant technology, connect your phone directly to your vehicle
  • Clip your phone to the dashboard of your vehicle to utilize voice commands

Before driving, you may also want to ensure you’ve taken steps to avoid phone use. You can, for example, pre-program your music selection and GPS navigation or put your phone on airplane mode. This ensures any calls will go straight to voice mail until you arrive at your destination. It will also help you avoid distractions as you drive and ensure you will be hands-free throughout your trip.

How can you use your cell phone under the new law?

The new law won’t stop you from using your cell phone while driving. You can still make calls, listen to music, or use navigation services on your phone. However, these must all be one-touch services or voice-activated, and you cannot be holding your phone. 

This law also applies to smartwatches, which are considered handheld devices under the new hands-free law. If you are using your smartwatch, ensure the services are one-touch or voice-activated.

Remember that stopping on an interstate freeway or controlled-access highway is already against state law. If you need to handle your cell phone and are on a highway, make sure to find a safe place, such as a parking lot, before doing so.

 

What happens if you are caught using your cell phone while driving?

Under the new law, should you be caught handling your phone, you will receive a $50 ticket (plus court fees) for a first-time offense. Tickets go up to $275 (plus court fees) for future offenses. Getting into an accident while using your cell phone will typically affect your insurance. If you injure or kill someone while holding your phone, you could face much more serious charges.

Are law enforcement agencies exempt?

Authorized emergency vehicles while performing official duties are still allowed to use handheld devices. Minnesota State Patrol, however, has instituted a policy that troopers use their cell phone in hands-free mode.

Of course, for those in emergency services, extenuating circumstances apply. Emergency vehicle drivers may need to be on their device from time to time in order to perform their duties. State Patrol is working to encourage members of emergency services to follow the law regardless of their exemption.

While the law will be enforced to keep Minnesotans safe, the goal is to have everyone comply without enforcement action. Take steps to reduce your use of cell phones while driving, and you’ll be doing your part to make Minnesota safer for everyone.

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