Following protracted negotiations between the Minnesota House and Senate, a new law banning the use of cell phones in cars except for if they are being used “hands-free” was voted on recently. Passed by large numbers of both Democrats and Republicans, it was signed into law by Governor Walz, and will now take effect in August. So what does this bill cover and what are the penalties in place for breaking it?
First, some background. For years, distracted driving has long been a major hazard on the roads. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,186 people were killed by distracted driving in the United States in 2017. The Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety also states it’s a factor for one in five crashes in our state every year. We have all seen someone who is on their phone or otherwise not paying attention to the road while driving.
Spurred by dozens of family members of Minnesotans who have died from this behavior, the Legislature got to work on drafting a law to combat distracted driving, specifically that from cell phones. While Minnesota already has laws on the books banning texting, emailing and using the internet in your car, this law now goes even further.
As of Aug. 1, it will now be illegal in Minnesota to be using your phone in your hands or holding it up to your ear while driving. Anyone who wants to use their phone must either put it on speakerphone, use a hands-free device such as the ones built into many new cars, or a cell-phone mount. For other functions, you can still use your phone’s GPS or listen to music or audio as long as it is already started and you are not interacting with the phone while you are operating the car, which includes while you are stopped. Emergency calls are an allowable exception.
If you are wondering what the penalties are for violating the new law, they are as follows. A first offense will cost $50, while additional offenses will be ticketed $275. While these penalties are not as steep as they could be in my opinion, I hope they will serve as enough of a deterrent for drivers to follow the new rules.
As someone who has been driving for only a few years, these rules don’t seem too daunting to adjust to. I remember when I first got my license and the additional rules that applied to me then. One of these was a complete prohibition on using cell phones in a car while driving until reaching the age of 18. So while these rules are new for all drivers, they are certainly not unprecedented and not as strict as those in place for under 18 drivers.
Though this law could be seen by some as a further invasion of liberties by the government, I believe it’s an absolutely necessary measure in order to take more steps to reduce the needless deaths caused by distracted driving. I have seen far too many stories in the news of people whose lives were tragically cut short by a distracted driver or by their own behavior behind the wheel. It becomes even more disturbing when some of those who died were younger than myself.
Going into the summer, when many of us will be going up north or on road trips, it’s more important than ever we drive safe, to protect ourselves and others. With this new hands-free driving law and more awareness, we can do our part to reduce driving fatalities in our state. Though not being able to hold your phone up to your ear while driving may be an inconvenience, the downsides of this law are far outweighed by its upsides. Keeping Minnesotans alive is more important than being able to use a phone in the car.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.