Lawmakers across the country have begun to crack down on cell phone use while driving in recent years. In 2019, Minnesota became the 17th American state to introduce hands-free cell phone legislation.
So, does that mean all cell phone use in cars is now against the law? Not quite. While the rules in this area are strict, there are certain circumstances under which you may legally use your device on the road.
In order to stay safe on the roads and remain compliant with the law, it’s important to be aware of the relevant provisions.
What You’re Not Allowed to Do
The most important rule is that you cannot hold your phone while driving, even while pulled up at a traffic light or intersection. A police officer does not have to prove you were using your phone in order to issue a ticket; as long as you’re holding it while driving, you may be guilty of an offense.
Furthermore, it’s illegal to make video calls, conduct live streams, look at text messages, photos, or videos, or use any app other than for navigation. If you need to do any of these things while traveling, you must first stop in a safe place (such as a gas station). Bear in mind that it’s illegal to pull up in the shoulder of a freeway or controlled-access highway in Minnesota.
How to Use Your Phone in the Car Safely & Legally
Not every cell phone use case is disallowed under the legislation. As long as you don’t handle your device, there are things you can do with it while on the road.
For example, you can make calls if you use your phone’s speaker setting or a Bluetooth device. It is illegal to have two earphones in while driving, however.
You can also send text messages by voice command, although some legislators have pointed out that there is no way of proving whether a message was spoken or typed once it’s on the screen.
While you’re not allowed to pick up your cell phone, you can touch the screen once to answer a call or issue other commands, such as playing or pausing music.
If you allow yourself to become distracted on the road while executing any of these functions, you may still be guilty of reckless driving.
Consequences of Breaking the Rules
The penalties for distracted driving increase considerably after your first offense. A first ticket will cost $50, while subsequent tickets cost $275 (there are additional court fees in both cases). You will also likely have to pay more for your next motor insurance premium after a distracted driving violation.
Distracted driving is a petty misdemeanor, which is less severe than a criminal offense. However, multiple violations can cause delays in getting a full license for those without one.
Minnesota’s law enforcement officers have shown no reluctance about enforcing the hands-free driving rules. A report from February of last year revealed that police had written almost 10,000 distracted driving tickets within five months of the law’s introduction.
Exceptions to the General Rules
There are a number of situations in which the rules on distracted driving apply differently. These include the following:
Road users under the age of 18 cannot use a cell phone at all while driving, even in hands-free mode. As noted above, more than one distracted driving violation will delay the process of progressing from an instruction permit to a full license.
School Bus Drivers
Like minors, school bus drivers cannot use personal cell phones at all on the road. Violations are also more serious for school bus drivers than ordinary road users; using a cell phone while driving a school bus is a misdemeanor carrying penalties of up to 90 days’ imprisonment and/or fines up to $1,000. Additionally, convictions result in the revocation of the right to work as a school bus driver.
Handheld phone use is allowed in some emergency situations. If, for example, you’re transporting a seriously ill or injured person, you may use your phone to call for emergency assistance.
Staying Out of Trouble on the Road in Minnesota
As cell phones have grown into a bigger and bigger part of our lives, the threat posed by distracted driving has become more pronounced. Following Minnesota’s hands-free driving rules will not only preserve you from unwanted police attention, it will keep you safe as well.
If you’ve been charged with a cell phone violation or another type of driving offense, get in contact today. Your initial consultation will be free.