On April 12, 2019 Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed the state’s new Hands Free law, which will go into effect on August 1, 2019. In doing so, Minnesota will become the 18th state to prohibit drivers from holding phones. That’s right…holding.
WHY HANDS FREE?
For many people, constant cell phone usage is so routine that it may seem almost silly that the law is now telling us that we can’t even hold our cell phones while driving. However, the last several years have shown that the use of cell phones while driving is no joke, and it can carry serious risks and consequences for everyone on the road. According to the Minnesota Department of Safety and the National Safety Council:
- From 2013 to 2018, citations for texting while driving increased from 2,177 to 9,545;
- More than 60,000 crashes were distracted driving-related from 2014 to 2018, contributing to nearly one in five crashes in Minnesota;
- Distracted driving contributes to an average of 45 deaths and 204 life-changing injuries a year;
- Texting citations climbed 30% from 2017 to 2018;
- Within the first six months of 2019, distracted driving was the cause of 9 fatal accidents.
If you doubt the importance of this, check out these powerful stories from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. So don’t wait! Get ‘in-the-know’ before August 1st to avoid those hefty fines, and most importantly, stay safe!
WHAT IS “HANDS-FREE DRIVING”?
Hands-free driving is just what it sounds like: Hands free. According to Chapter 11-H.F.No. 50, drivers cannot HOLD their cell phones to:
- Type or read any text/social media messages;
- Engage in a phone call, including initiating a call, talking or listening, and participating in video calling; or
- Access video, music, pictures, games or software applications.
But what if I can do all of those things without holding my phone? Then is it allowed? YES!
UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES AM I ALLOWED TO USE MY PHONE?
The hands free law says that you may use your 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. Additionally, hand-held phone use is allowed to obtain emergency assistance. The Department of Public Safety also lists out the following exceptions to the hands-free law:
- GPS-GPS and other systems that can only be used for navigation do not apply under the hands-free law, as well as in-car screens.
- Headscarf or wrap-Having a cell phone tucked into a headscarf or head wrap is not against the hands-free cell phone law. However, the phone must be securely situated to remain hands free and must not block the driver’s vision in any way. The phone may not be removed from the headscarf or otherwise held in the driver’s hand while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic.
- Smartwatches-Drivers may use smartwatches as a conventional watch to check time, but smartwatches are considered an electronic communications device under the hands-free law. That means that the device has the same rules as a cell phone.
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES?
A first time violation of the hands-free law will cost you $50. However, any subsequent violations will run you a whopping $275 plus court fees.
HOW TO GO “HANDS FREE”?
Remember, the new hands-free law is just what it sounds like: hands-free. So here are some options for going hands-free while still being able to use your cell phone.
- The cheapest and simplest way to go hands-free is to literally not use your phone when you drive. Put it in the glove compartment, trunk, and backseat. Turn on a do-not-disturb app and enjoy the ride!
- Another option is to use a Bluetooth-enabled ear piece. One Swenson Lervick attorney uses a Motorola Boom 2 headset; it synced flawlessly with his Galaxy S7, is super easy to use, and has excellent audio quality.
- Pair your phone to your vehicle if your vehicle has Bluetooth capability.
- Buy an auxiliary cable and connect your phone’s earphone jack to your car’s AUX jack.
- Buy a holder to clip your phone to the dash. You can use it in voice-activated or single touch mode. For some, these can be really flimsy, especially with how big phones are these days. However, my husband purchased a magnetic phone car mount and it works really well! The phone stays secure and doesn’t flop around everywhere.
HANDS-FREE DOES NOT MEAN DISTRACTION FREE
While cell phone use is a leading cause of distracted driving, going hands-free does not mean distraction free. I know there have been many-a-times where digging for those McDonald’s french fries from the bottom of the bag seemed way more important than making sure I got out of the parking lot safely. Always remember to keep your cell phones down and your eyes up. Or, as my mom always says, “arrive alive!”
For more information about the new Minnesota hands free law, please contact Katelyn Steffel Spangrud.
Disclaimer: Because we don’t know everything about your situation, this article isn’t legal advice and is for your general information only.