Aug. 1, 2019, will usher in a safer Minnesota. On that day we will be able to proudly claim residence in a state with a hands-free law. Thanks to Gov. Tim Walz for putting his signature on a bill that had evaded passage for close to a decade in the state legislature. The ever-worsening distracted driving crisis in Minnesota could not escape attention any more. Prior two years of Minnesota traffic fatalities were 357 in 2017 and 381 in 2018. Precious lives lost on Minnesota roads stand at 80 on April 22, 2019, which is nine more than last year.

This was happening despite an existing driver-texting ban in the state.

So, what happened this year? Answer is simple: a grass-roots movement propelled by growing number of victim families took shape. Their deafening cries drowned the illegitimate voices of opposition to a law that was way overdue in the state. Sixteen states and District of Columbia enacted hands-free laws, leaving Minnesota behind.

Better late than never, on Aug. 1, 2019, we will become the 17th state with a law that will make it illegal to hold a phone while driving.

To protect against misinformation and to ensure that all Minnesotans understand the new law, I would like to reproduce parts of information published by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots) and Minnesota Safety Council (www.minnesotasafetycouncil.org).

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 apps, reading texts, and scrolling or typing on the phone.

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.

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. In-car screens and systems are also exempt. In both cases, most of these systems lock when the vehicle is moving.

Couldn’t I get distracted by in-car screen or other distractions like eating, grooming, pets, passengers or reading a book? Why aren’t they covered?

Yes, many distractions may occur when driving, but cell phone use presents a unique and complex challenge addressed by the Hands-Free law. A driver must 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 are not allowed to have a phone in their hand. This will be now easier for law enforcement to see violations and take effective action. The goal is for Minnesotans to simply follow the new law, facilitated by insightful public awareness and education campaigns.

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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