Drivers can no longer hold phones in hands while driving; New law went into effect on Thursday

Published 9:13 am Friday, August 2, 2019

St. Paul — To help reduce fatalities and injuries on Minnesota roads, drivers in Minnesota can no longer hold a phone in their hand while behind the wheel. The hands-free cell phone bill, which was signed into law in April by Gov. Tim Walz, took effect Thursday.

“The hands-free law is a powerful example of Minnesotans turning personal tragedy into lifesaving advocacy,” Walz said. “I am proud of the bipartisan effort that went into making this law. Distracted driving has impacted too many families in our state, and this commonsense law means more drivers will put down the phone, keep their eyes on the road, and ensure more Minnesotans make it home to their loved ones.”

Distracted driving contributed to more than 60,000 (one in five) crashes from 2014- 2018, according to preliminary numbers. Distracted driving contributed to an average of 45 deaths and 204 life-changing injuries a year between 2014 and 2018 and texting citations climbed 30 percent from 2017 to 2018.

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“Every Minnesotan who has received a knock on a door from law enforcement with the news that a loved one was killed in a crash knows the pain and heartache that never goes away,” said Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington. “The hands-free law will make our roads safer for every Minnesotan and every person who travels through the state. Changing driving behavior to save lives is a mission that every one of us can support. Together we can stop the senseless loss of life that distracted driving causes.”

What to know

• You can’t hold your phone while driving

• You can place your phone anywhere in the vehicle as long as you are not holding it with your hand. If mounted on the windshield, it must be in the lower part of the windshield, not obstructing your view.

• 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.

• Drivers 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 non-navigation apps, reading texts and scrolling or typing on the phone.

• GPS devices 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.

• 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.

Penalties for violating the hands free law are:

• More than $120 that includes the fine plus court costs for a first offense.

• More than $300 that includes fine plus court costs for a first offense second and/or subsequent offense.

• Potential for increased insurance rates.

• If you injure or kill someone under the hands-free law, you can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.