July is upon us, which means sunshine, mosquitoes and only a few weeks until the Hands-Free Law will go into effect for Minnesota drivers. Minnesota will join many states who already have similar laws in place. 

Basic Information

The Hands-Free Law was signed by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on April 12, 2019, and will officially start to be enforced this Aug. 1. The law was put into place in order to get drivers to be completely focused on driving while in their vehicles. 

The smartphone driving data company, TrueMotion, reported the average American driver spends 17% of their time driving on their phone. Minnesota drivers, in particular, were found to use their phones 15% of the time in the car. 

According to the Office of Traffic Safety, “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 cannot hold their phones while driving, but they can mount their phone to a phone holder on their car’s dash or air vents. Actions such as texting, scrolling or typing will not be allowed. 

Texting while driving is already illegal in Minnesota. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 48 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have a ban on texting while driving. 

The only exception to the hands-free law is emergency situations. Otherwise, drivers are not allowed to hold their phone while driving, nor while stopped at a stop sign or stop light. 

Authorized emergency law enforcement agencies are allowed to hold a phone while in their vehicles, but some are working to reduce this practice within their agencies. The Minnesota State Patrol requires troopers to only operate phones in a hands-free mode. 

In-car screens and systems, including GPS and other navigation systems, are exempt under the law. However, drivers who use their cell phone for navigations will need to type in their destination before driving. 

Smart watches, such as an Apple Watch, are considered electronic communications devices. Hence, they are subject to the same restrictions as cell phones under the Hands-Free Law. Smart watch owners can use the watches as a conventional watch to check the time while driving, as well as use one-touch or voice activations. However, they cannot type, text or scroll on the device. 

Research

“To put this issue in perspective,” Grand Rapids Assistant Police Chief Steve Schaar stated, “We know from statistics kept by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that last year 211,603 Minnesota motorists were ticketed for speed and 25,000 are typically arrested each year for impaired driving. At the same time, 7,357 drivers, almost a third of those arrested for driving drunk, were ticketed for texting and driving.”  

 “The difference is that the number of impaired driving arrests is decreasing while texting and driving is increasing,” Schaar said. “We are very concerned about distracted driving and the number of people that are looking down at their electronic device, texting or making telephone calls, and believe that this new law will save lives. Our officers will be out there enforcing this law.”

Looking at preliminary data, Minnesota saw more than 60,000 crashes related to distracted driving from 2014 to 2018, according to the Office of Traffic Safety. This adds up to almost one in five crashes in the state. This same data showed that texting citations increased 30% from 2017 to 2018. Additionally, distracted driving contributes to an average of 2,014 life-changing injuries each year and 45 deaths, between 2014 and 2018.  

“Every day, someplace in our nation, nine Americans are killed and 100 are seriously injured in distracted driving accidents. Operating a motor vehicle is something that takes your full, undivided attention,” Grand Rapids Police Sergeant Andy Morgan echoed.

Will this help?

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in the states that have hands-free driving laws, traffic fatalities have decreased by an average of 15%. 

“In the past 18 months, three states have introduced distracted driving laws – Georgia, Rhode Island and Oregon. All of those states have seen a reduction in distracted driving by about 20% after the laws,” according to TrueMotion’s report. “Is awareness the secret to reducing distracted driving?”

How to prepare

There are only a few weeks before the Minnesota Hands-Free Law is officially in place. Drivers should be preparing now for how they will handle their phone and make adjustments as necessary. The Office of Traffic Safety organized a list of ways drivers can adapt to the new law while keeping Minnesota roads safe: 

  • Do not use your phone while driving;

  • Pair your phone to your vehicle’s in-car system for phone calls and navigation;

  • Use an AUX cord or cassette player adapter;

  • Take phone calls through a single earphone, or Bluetooth speaker or earphone;

  • Mount phone on your vehicle's dash or air vents.

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