Gov. Walz signs hands-free bill into law

Surrounded by families who have lost loved ones to distracted driving, Gov. Tim Walz signs the hands-free bill into law on April 12.

ST. PAUL — It will be illegal to hold your cell phone in your hand while you’re driving in Minnesota starting Aug. 1, 2019.

Gov. Tim Walz signed the so-called hands-free bill into law on Friday, April 12, while he was surrounded by families of people killed in distracted driving-related crashes.

“Many of the families who have been affected by distracted driving, and who have been tirelessly advocating for this law, are the reason we’re here today,” Walz said in a statement on April 12. “Minnesotans deserve safe roads and this bipartisan bill helps prevent senseless accidents and improves our public safety.”

The new law expands current law that prohibits drivers from texting, using email and browsing on their phones by banning a driver from using their phone unless it is in voice-activated or hands-free mode.

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., have banned handheld phone use while driving, a news release says.

Here are seven things to know about the new law:

1. What can I do while driving?

A driver can still make calls, send text messages, listen to music and get directions, but only if they are using voice commands or single-touch activation.

If it is an emergency situation — such as a driver who needs emergency assistance or if there is an immediate threat to life and safety — a driver can hold their phone in their hand. Authorized emergency personnel can also hold their phones while driving, so long as they are performing official duties.

2. What can’t I do while driving?

Under this new law, a driver can’t hold the phone in their hand while they are part of traffic — so that means at red lights, too. Drivers also can’t use their phone to video chat, live stream, Snapchat, look at photos, play games, use apps, read text messages or scroll or type on their phone.

3. GPS systems are OK

Systems that are only used for navigation and in-car screens and systems are allowed because they are exempt from the hands-free law. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s website says most of these systems lock when the vehicle is moving.

4. There are penalties if you break the law

The first ticket is $50, plus court fees. The second ticket, and any subsequent tickets, are $275, plus court fees.

5. The law goes into effect Aug. 1

Safety officials say that although the law goes into effect in a few months, drivers should start obeying it now to help make Minnesota’s roads safer.

6. This should help make roads safer

Safety officials believe the hands-free law will help make Minnesota roads safer and make it easier for officials to catch people who are breaking the law. Law enforcement agencies have cited difficulties in catching people texting and driving, noting prohibiting a driver from holding their cell phone in their hand will help them enforce these distracted driving laws.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s website notes the agency’s hope is people will comply with the new law without it needing to be enforced.

According to national data, in 12 of the states that have passed hands-free laws, the number of traffic-related deaths have gone down by an average of 15 percent.

7. There are several ways you can go hands free

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s website lists several ways people can go hands free while driving. Here are some of them:

  • Stop using your phone while driving altogether. Stash it in your truck, backseat or glove compartment so you aren’t tempted to use it.
  • Use a single earphone that has a microphone — this allows you to go hands free while still being able to make phone calls when needed. But remember, it is illegal in Minnesota to have earbuds in both ears at the same time while driving.
  • Sync your phone with your vehicle via Bluetooth, an auxiliary cable or the cassette player, and then use voice activation or single touch to use your phone through the vehicle’s audio system. If this doesn't work, you could buy a Bluetooth speaker for your car to go hands free.
  • Clip your phone to your dashboard and use voice activated or single-touch mode.

Melissa Turtinen is the multimedia reporter for Lakeshore Weekly News. She's passionate about adding context to stories and informing people about what's going on in their community. She enjoys being outside, traveling and good beer.


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