New Minnesota Law Will Ban Handheld Cellphone Use While Driving

Published in Trauma Services, For the Health of It Author: Melissa Hjelle, Injury Prevention Specialist, Trauma Services

August 1, 2019, will be a historic day for Minnesota. On this day, Minnesota joins 16 other states along with Washington, D.C., in banning handheld cellphone use while driving.

The passing of the Minnesota Hands-Free Law has intention to drive down serious injuries and fatalities that occur on Minnesota roads as a result of distracted driving. A vital influence for the passing of this law came from Minnesota families who lost their loved ones due to distracted driving and whom determinedly advocated for change. These families were right to be courageous to fight for this law. Minnesota has seen over 60,000 motor vehicle crashes in the last four years due to distracted driving.

This report breaks down to one out of every five crashes that can be credited to distraction; and this number is likely underreported as it has historically been a challenge for law enforcement agencies to prove and issue citations for distracted driving (this law will change that). Every year, we see an average of 45 fatalities and 204 life-altering injuries of our fellow Minnesotans, again because of distraction while driving. This is a public safety concern that we hopefully will all embrace and dedicate our own efforts to support.

We are aware that a variety of driver behaviors and or items in our vehicles contribute to distracted driving, so why target cellphones so fiercely? Why don't we recognize that cellphones steal our cognitive, visual and manual skill sets to keep us from driving safely? Simply, it is easy to be fooled by the temptation and ease of cellphone use without realizing the motor skills it eliminates and the consequential danger it puts us in while driving.

The good news. Distracted driving is 100 percent preventable. We can eradicate distracted driving related crashes if we join the effort and each do our part! One big step toward this goal is to get familiar with the new Hands-Free Minnesota Law. To help us understand and implement these changes, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety provides us with common questions and their responses below:

Q: What can I do under the new law?

A: The new law allows a driver to use their cellphone 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.

Q: What can’t I do with my phone under the new law?

A: You may not hold your phone in your hand.

Also, a driver may not use their phone at any time for video calling, video livestreaming, Snapchat, gaming, looking at video or photos stored on the phone, using apps, reading texts and scrolling or typing on the phone.

Q: Can I ever hold my phone?

A: Yes. Handheld 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.

Q: Can I use a GPS navigation device?

A: 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.

Q: Couldn’t I get distracted by my in-car screen or other distractions like eating, grooming, pets, passengers or reading a book? Why aren’t they covered?

A: Yes, there are many possible distractions when driving, but cellphone use presents a unique and complex challenge and is addressed by the Hands-Free law. A driver is still expected to avoid other distractions and drive with due care under other Minnesota traffic laws.

Q: Are there penalties?

A: Yes. The first ticket is $50 plus court fees and the second and later tickets are $275 plus court fees.

Q: Will this make the roads safer?

A: Yes, in two ways.

  1. 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].
  2. This law also will help law enforcement keep Minnesotans safe. Because drivers are not allowed to have a phone in their hand, it will 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.

Q: How can I go Hands Free?

A: Review the following following list of options. Listed in order from cheapest to most expensive.

  • Do not use your phone when you drive. Put your phone in the glove compartment, trunk or backseat or turn on a “don’t -disturb” app and enjoy the drive. It’s free and you will be surprised at how many new sights you will see on your drive. Several large, successful companies have adopted no‐phone use policies while driving on company time and after getting used to it, they report being happier and as productive as when they used their phones.
  • Use a single earphone that has the microphone and you are hands free. Remember, using earphones in both ears at the same time is illegal in Minnesota.
  • Pair your phone to your current car or truck. If your existing vehicle and phone can talk to each other, pair up and go hands free.
  • Buy an auxiliary cable and connect your phone’s earphone jack to your car’s AUX jack. You can operate your phone by voice or single touch and listen through your car’s audio system. Auxiliary cables can be purchased for less then $5.
  • If your car is an older model and does not have an AUX jack, but has a cassette player, you can buy an adapter that fits into the cassette player that allows you to connect your phone through the earphone jack. The cassette adapters cost about $30.
  • Buy a holder to clip your phone to the dash. You can use it in a voice activated or single-touch mode. Clips can be simple and cheap or complicated. Make sure you purchase one that holds your phone securely. Prices for dash mounts/clips range from less than $5 to $50.
  • Buy a Bluetooth speaker or earphone to pair with your phone for the vehicle. There are many after-market choices for both. All of which let you go hands free. Prices are generally $10-$50.