As many of you have heard by now, the Minnesota Legislature has established a new hands-free phone use law for motorists. The law becomes active, and enforceable, on Aug. 1. With only a few weeks before then, it’s important for all motorists to become familiar with the changes.
With nearly everyone being a cell phone user, and with many of us having become so accustomed to using it for phone calls, playing music, GPS directions, and such, all while driving, it’s critical to start preparing for the change.
The primary purpose of the law is to cut down on the distractions motorists encounter while focused on using their phones. Distracted driving is one of the primary reasons for crashes in Minnesota and all over the country.
Minnesota joins 18 other states that already follow the same restrictions. This law is actually not that “new,” in that commercial truck drivers have been restricted to hands-free phone use for many years.
Simply put, using your phone, while in traffic, will require voice commands or single-touch activation. You will not be allowed to hold the phone while using it. Being in traffic means your vehicle is on any part of the roadway where traffic normally is at — including being stopped at traffic lights. Pulling over on to the shoulder, out of the driving lane, for instance, is not considered being in traffic.
With the new law, a motorist can actually do more with their phone than what the current law allows. The new law does allow phone calls, texting, listening to music/podcasts, and receiving GPS directions, for example. However, all of these acts must be done without holding the phone through the use of voice commands or single-touch activation.
After Aug. 1, if you are holding your phone to use it while in traffic, you are breaking the law. You are still restricted from viewing or reading any type of electronic message — even in hands-free mode — because this takes both your eyes and mind off the road. Scrolling and/or typing are not allowed. As with many laws, there are exceptions. With the new hands-free law, the only time hands-on use is permitted is for obtaining emergency assistance.
There are several ways to comply with the new hands-free law. The easiest, of course, is to get used to not using the phone. No call or text is worth risking your life, or that of others.
If you want to use your phone in traffic, and you drive a newer vehicle and own a newer smart phone, you can synch, or pair, your phone to the vehicle’s communication center.
For instance, with the push of a steering wheel button on her car, and with the contact list on her iPhone, my daughter can simply say, “Call dad,” and the equipment does the rest by dialing and airing the phone conversation over the car’s audio system. When she wants to end the call, she simply pushes the same steering wheel button. At no time do her eyes leave the road or her hands leave the steering wheel. She can even send and receive text messages in nearly the same manner.
If your car is older and does not allow pairing, but you have a newer phone, consider buying a phone holder and mounting it on the dash. This still allows voice commands or single-touch activation to use the phone.
There are other ways to meet the requirements of the new hands-free law. If you are unsure of how your phone and car can function with one another, contact your car’s dealership for assistance. If you need help with your newer phone to better understand voice commands or single-touch use, contact your phone’s retailer or service provider. Aug. 1 will be here soon and you need to start making the changes for complying now.
In closing, consider these points. From an officer’s point of view, enforcement will be made much easier — if we see you in traffic and you are holding a phone, you can be pulled over and charged.
And speaking of tickets, the fine for the first violation of the new law in Carver County will be close to $150, but repeat offenders will pay a fine closer to $350 for subsequent violations.
However, the cost of being distracted and crashing far outweigh that of any fine. Please take steps now to comply with the new law to protect yourself and others on the roads.