Earlier this year, Minnesota joined 17 other states and Washington, D.C. in requiring that any motorist in a moving vehicle must have his/her cellphones in hands-free mode.
Distracted driving continues to be a serious problem on Minnesota—and US—roadways where distracted driving is the cause of one out of five accidents. Further, drivers who talk on the phone while driving are four times more likely to have an accident while those who text are eight times more likely to be involved in a crash. However, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, even though the majority of drivers cite distracted driving by others as their number one concern, approximately half of these drivers send text or email messages while driving themselves.
In order to spread the word, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, law enforcement agencies across the state, and individuals who have lost loved ones to distracted driving are joining forces to educate the public about the new law before it takes effect in August.
Lead up to the law
Law enforcement agencies collaborated on a three-week long statewide crackdown on distracted drivers back in April. By disguising themselves as utility workers, construction workers, and panhandlers—as well as by boarding school buses and waiting at other higher vantage points such as traffic signals and utility poles—officers have had to use such creative tactics to apprehend distracted drivers.
This crackdown was in response to a five-year high in texting while driving citations in 2018 across the state.
Provisions of the law
Texting, email, and browsing the Internet while driving was already illegal under current state law; however, talking on the phone was acceptable provided the driver was not distracted. Under the new law, such calls are only permissible if the phone is in hands-free mode, excepting emergency phone calls.
Previously, officers must observe a driver texting or emailing before initiating a traffic stop; however, after 1 August, police will be able to lawfully stop motorists who are holding a phone while driving, and this includes while at a stoplight or stuck in traffic.
There are a few exceptions to the new law. First, the bill made an allowance for the use of GPS devices that are used solely for navigation purposes; however, scrolling is considered distracted driving and under the purview of the new law.
Second, motorists are still permitted to stream podcasts provided the podcast is selected and play is pressed before the vehicle is in motion.
Sent and received voice text messages are not specifically addressed by the bill; however, there are concerns that the nature of voice texts precludes officers from knowing whether a person was manually using his/her phone, and such concerns may be addressed at a later date.
A note about hijabs or other types of head scarves
Despite an amendment that specifically permitted this practice being added to the bill, law enforcement argued that it wasn’t necessary because if a phone is, indeed, tucked into a hijab or head scarf, the motorist isn’t handling the phone.
These new creative tactics have garnered praise by the general public, especially among parents of children who ride a school bus and individuals who have lost loved ones to distracted driving. There is little argument that distracted driving continues to be a huge public safety issue, and any new tactic that can be used in the fight against distracted driving is a good thing.