This article was written by Carolyn Bastick
The Hands-Free Bill was signed by Gov. Tim Walz on April 12, and becomes law on August 1. The following are excerpts from the Hands-Free Law Fact Sheet that can be found on the Office of Traffic Safety website at dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/hands-free/Pages/default.aspx.
According to the Fact Sheet, the new law should result in making our roads safer. In 12 of 15 states with hands-free laws, traffic fatalities have decreased by an average of 15 percent [Source: National Safety Council and Insurance Federation based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data]. This law will also help law enforcement keep Minnesotans safe. Since drivers aren’t allowed to have a phone in their hand, it will be easier for law enforcement to see violations and take more effective action. Through public awareness and education, the goal is for Minnesotans to comply with the new law without enforcement action.
What can I do under the new law?
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. Remember, hands-free is not necessarily distraction-free.
What can’t I do with my phone under the new law?
You may not hold your phone in your hand. Also, a driver 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.
Can I ever hold my phone?
Yes. 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.
Are there penalties?
Yes. The first ticket is $50 plus court fees and the second and later tickets are $275 plus court fees.
Can I use a GPS navigation device?
Yes. GPS 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.
Is it against the new law to hold a phone in a hijab or other type of headscarf or wrap?
Having a cell phone tucked into a headscarf or head wrap is not against the hands-free cell phone law. The phone must be securely situated to remain hands-free and must not block the driver’s vision in any way.
What would be against the new law is if the driver removed the phone and held it in their hand while they were a part of traffic.
If my teen is under 18 years old and has a driver’s permit or provisional driver’s license, can they use their phone in hands-free mode?
The new hands-free law does not change anything for teens under 18 with a driver’s permit or provisional driver’s license: They cannot make or answer calls while driving (hand-held or hands-free).
Does the new law apply to law enforcement agencies?
Under the new law, hand-held phone use is allowed in an authorized emergency vehicle while performing official duties. However, some agencies have taken a proactive approach to reduce or eliminate hand-held phone use.
How to go hands-free (from cheapest to most expensive…)
*Don’t use your phone when you drive. Put your phone in the glove compartment or trunk or backseat or turn on a do-not-disturb app and enjoy the drive.
*Use a single earphone that has the microphone, and you are hands-free. Remember, using earphones in both ears at the same time is illegal in Minnesota.
*Pair your phone to your current car or truck. If your existing vehicle and phone can talk to each other, pair up and go hands-free.
*Buy an auxiliary cable and connect your phone’s earphone jack to your car’s AUX jack. You can operate your phone by voice or single touch and listen through your car’s audio system. Auxiliary cables can be purchased for less than $5.
*If your car is older and doesn’t have an AUX jack but has a cassette player, you can buy an adapter that fits into the cassette player and allows you to connect your phone through the earphone jack. The cassette adapters cost about $30.
*Buy a holder to clip your phone to the dash. You can use it in a voice-activated or single-touch mode. Clips can be simple and cheap or complicated. Make sure you get one that holds your phone securely. Prices range from less than $5 to $50.
*Buy a Bluetooth speaker or earphone to pair with your phone. There are many after-market choices for both, all of which let you go hands-free. Prices are generally in the $10 to $50 range.