Five words from the oft-quoted challenge to the nation by President Kennedy in his inaugural address is the title of this column. These words inspired me to pose a question for all who drive on our Minnesota roads. More about that quote and my question a bit later.

Let us first talk about Minnesota becoming a hands-free law state.

Majority of us have learned from paper, radio or TV that starting today, Aug. 1, there is a new hands-free law in force in Minnesota. I have been writing about it a lot recently, and have no apologies to make for being repetitive, be it about the new law or about the topic of distracted driving. I do this not only because I lost my daughter to a distracted driver more than 11 years ago, but more so to protect parents and families around me from experiencing the ever-present grief and pain associated with the loss of a child.

But today, I would rather not harp on grief but focus on the new law. You may learn a lot about it in detail at the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety web site: dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/Pages/default.aspx. Thank you Bruce Gordon, director communications, Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), for proposing that the least we as citizens must do is to speak up if we come across someone not obeying the law. He/she will thank you for helping Minnesotans to drive distracted-free.

DPS has the following insightful and easy to follow suggestions:

  • Cell phones — put the phone down, turn it off or place it out of reach.
  • Music and other controls — pre-program radio stations and arrange music in an easy-to-access spot. Adjust mirrors and ventilation before traveling.
  • Navigation — map out the destination and enter the GPS route in advance.
  • Eating and drinking — avoid messy foods and secure drinks.
  • Children — teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle and model proper driving behavior.
  • Passengers — speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior and offer to help with anything that takes the driver's attention off the road.

The law requires that 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, Snapchatting, gaming, looking at video or photos stored on the phone, using non-navigation apps, reading texts and scrolling or typing on the phone. The list goes on and on. Just think before touching that phone while driving. 

Remember, hands-free is not distraction-free.

Hopefully, the new law will make it easier for state patrol to catch violators in action. However, state patrol alone cannot make the law work. Yes, enforcement will surely improve and citations will go up. Let us not forget that a trooper can intervene only after a violation. How about the pre-violation state? Isn’t it the responsibility of the driver to self-intervene? It will surely protect the driver’s pocketbook as well as protect a life or two.

Please ponder. Isn’t that a good suggestion?

Now comes President Kennedy’s message to the nation and ask the question that I intentionally left incomplete in the title. It reads: What you can do to make the hands-free law work?

The Shreya Foundation (www.shreyadixit.org) will pose the same question at the 12th Raksha Vigil & 5K for Distracted Driving on Aug. 10. The plan is to have community volunteers invite attendees to write their answers/suggestions/proposed actions on a poster board. Shreya Foundation will select some and transform them into programs and projects. This year, the foundation will dedicate all of its programs to the hands-free law.

Please join us on Aug. 10. May I also give you the following compelling reasons, why you should?

  1. You will meet experts from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Minnesota State Patrol and Minnesota Safety Council. Information is available at www.shreyadixit.org. You will be surprised how much gets done at such events. Let us all work at the grass roots to educate each other.
  2. You will see how the young high school students are making a difference by coaching young elementary school kids about distracted driving.
  3. You will find out that running is good for health. You will get your official chip timing for the 5K Run. Also, it is the best way to spend Saturday morning, learning about driver distraction and how you may save lives from this epidemic. Do you know traffic crashes have already killed 183 in Minnesota, as of July 28, 2019, at least 20-25% due to distracted driving?
  4. You will be able to honor your lost loved one by bringing for display a framed 8x10 photograph for the Memorial Wall.
  5. Last but not the least, you will get the opportunity to savor healthy refreshments and many other goodies. Register with family and friends at www.shreyadixit.org.

Please write to Vijay Dixit of the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation at vijay@shreyadixit.org. His phone number is 612-759-3384.

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