Minnesota Hands Free While Driving Effective August 1

Minnesota Hands Free While Driving Effective August 1

Annette Larson

Guest, Annette Larson
SC/SW Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) Regional Coordinator

In just a few weeks, Minnesota law will require drivers to put their phones down and go hands-free while driving. The state’s hands-free law will take effect August 1, 2019 and will make Minnesota the 19th state, along with Washington, D.C., to enact laws regarding hands-free while driving.

Today’s distractions, including those involving cell phone use, are responsible for one-fourth of crashes and one-fifth of fatalities. In 12 of 15 states with data on their hands-free law, traffic fatalities have decreased by an average of 15 percent.

I care about your safety and that of your family.  That is why I encourage you to become familiar with this new law and adapt your cell phone use so you are ready to comply.  As we know, the public will be looking at us to be role models.

When Minnesota’s hands-free cell phone law takes effect August 1, drivers over 18 will be able to:

  • Use your phone while driving, but only in hands-free mode.
  • Text, but only in hands-free or voice-activated mode.
  • Use your phone as a GPS – but only in hands-free or voice-activated mode only.
  • Listen to music and podcasts – but only in hands-free or voice-activated mode.
  • Use your phone hand-held or hands-free in an emergency, but ONLY to get assistance if there is an immediate threat to life and safety.

Long story short, when you’re driving in traffic, and that includes time at stoplights, cell phone functions can only be used hands-free. Typing, scrolling or holding the device is not allowed. 

Q/A ON NEW HANDS-FREE WHILE DRIVING LAW

What can I do under the new law?

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.
Remember, hands-free is not necessarily distraction-free.

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

You may not hold your phone in your hand. Also, a driver 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.

Can I ever hold my phone?

Yes. 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.

Can I use a GPS navigation device?

Yes. GPS and other systems that can only be used for navigation are exempt from the Hands-Free law. Incar screens and systems are also exempt. In both cases, most of these systems lock when the vehicle is moving.

Is it against the new law to hold a phone in a hijab or other type of headscarf or wrap?

Having a cell phone tucked into a headscarf or head wrap is not against the hands-free cell phone law.
The phone must be securely situated to remain hands-free and must not block the driver’s vision in any
way.

What would be against the new law is if the driver removed the phone and held it in their hand while
they were a part of traffic.

At no time may a driver hold the phone in their hand unless it’s 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.

The new law does allow 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.

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?

Yes, there are many possible distractions when driving, but cell phone 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.

Are there penalties?

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

Will this make the roads safer?

Yes, in two ways. 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].

This law will also help law enforcement keep Minnesotans safe. Because drivers aren’t allowed to have
a phone in their hand, it’ll 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.

How to go hands-free (from cheapest to most expensive…)

1) Don’t use your phone when you drive. Put your phone in the glove compartment or trunk or
backseat or turn on a do-not-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. A number of large, successful companies have
adopted no-phone-use policies for their employees while driving on company time, and after getting
used to it, employees report being happier and at least as productive as when they used their
phones.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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 than $5.

5) If your car is older and doesn’t have an AUX jack but has a cassette player, you can buy an adapter
that fits into the cassette player and allows you to connect your phone through the earphone jack.
The cassette adapters cost about $30.

6) 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 get one that holds your phone securely. Prices range from less than $5 to $50.

7) Buy a Bluetooth speaker or earphone to pair with your phone. There are many after-market choices
for both, all of which let you go hands-free. Prices are generally in the $10 to $50 range.

Q/A Source: The Department of Public Safety State of Minnesota

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