We all know we’re not supposed to text and drive. It makes drivers far too distracted, especially since they need to take their eyes off the road. However, a new law is coming that will once again change our relationship with our phones and the road: Hands Free.
This has actually been pushed pretty much since cell phones originally came out, possibly even before making texting and driving illegal. Despite what many think, even handling a phone for a little bit, whether that’s talking on it or selecting your music or even restarting your navigation because it crashed, can be a distraction. As such, a law was signed in by Governor Tim Walz in April to mandate hands-free driving.
So, what does this mean for the average person?
“What it means is that you cannot be using your cell phone while you are talking,” said County Sheriff, Jason Kamerud. “You are allowed to use voice commands and single touch, but you can’t be holding your phone.”
Anyone who drives a newer car probably has Bluetooth and can connect their phone to the car, which is still allowed so long as the phone is either never touched or only uses a single button prompt(such as touching the green symbol to pick up the phone). Those cars without this capability will have to use the speaker function instead of the Bluetooth if they choose to answer a phone call while driving or voice commands if they choose to make one.
There are of course other things we do with our phones while we’re driving, such as setting up navigation. Because this law will make it illegal for you to handle a phone while driving, you’ll have to make sure your phone is ready before you hit the road. Any navigation, music, podcast, and anything else must be prepared while you are still parked and out of traffic.
“The idea of the statute is to encourage people to focus on their driving first,” said Kamerud. “You need both hands to drive.”
For now, this law is specific to electronics, as according to Kamerud, other distractions would be difficult to legislate, such as having a snack or applying makeup while driving. But, since law enforcement is already used to looking for people texting and fiddling with phones while driving, this really just changes what exactly you can get pulled over for. Doing anything other than a single touch will be grounds for a driver to be pulled over and fined under this new law.
“If the officer observes you with a phone in your hand, you are in violation of the statute, and you are held liable for that violation,” Kamerud said.
The reason behind this is crash data. All the data has found that pretty much any interaction with a phone, texting or not, has caused an increase in accidents, whether that’s car on car or a car hitting a pedestrian.
The fine associated with the violation has a range, with the first violation costing anywhere between $50 and $150 dollars depending on the county you live in, and Kamerud estimated Carver is looking at $150 for the first violation. Of course, just like other traffic violations, the fine increases depending on how often you violate a particular statute, which at its highest will be about $275, again depending on county.
And it’s best to get in this habit as soon as possible, according to Kamerud. The statute will take effect statewide on August 1, meaning that while technically you aren’t violating anything now by fixing your navigation, it’s best to start getting used to leaving it be until you’re able to park safely or pull over. After all, better to be slightly late than to never arrive at all.