On August 1, 2019, a new hands-free driving law went into effect in Minnesota. In general, this law prohibits the use of handheld cell phones while driving. Minnesota has joined 16 other states and Washington D.C. in banning handhold cellphone use while driving.
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. Hand-held 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.
If you need to make a call, the safest option is to pull completely off the road to a place like a convenience store or gas station. While it’s legal to stop along a U.S. highway, or country road, it may not always be safe to do so. On a freeway, unless it’s an emergency, stopping on the shoulder of an interstate freeway or controlled access freeway to make a call is illegal.
Drivers can use smartwatches like a conventional watch in order to check the time, but otherwise smartwatches are considered electronic communication devices under the new law. This means that smartwatches have the same restrictions as cell phones and cannot be used for anything that is prohibited for cell phones under the new law. In other words, smartwatches can be used to check the time or the same way a cell phone can be legally used if it’s by one-touch or by voice activation.
Having a cell phone tucked into a headscarf or head wrap is not against the hands-free cell phone law, but the phone must be securely situated to remain hands-free and must not block the driver’s view in any way.
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. Devices such as amateur radio, two-way radio, and citizens band radio are also exempt, because the law does not define their transmissions as electronic messages. Users must still operate these devices with due care in a safe manner.
What Can’t I Do Under the New Law?
A driver may not hold their phone in their hand and 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, or scrolling or typing on the phone.
Teens under 18 with a driver’s permit or provisional driver’s license cannot make or answer calls while driving, regardless if the call is hand-held or hands-free.
A first violation is a petty misdemeanor with a base fine of $50, but after surcharges the fine is closer to $135. For second and subsequent offenders, the base fine will be $275. With the additional surcharges, the fine is closer to $360.
Stay Safe, Call Us
Every case and every person’s situation are unique. If you have been arrested and have any questions about your situation, please give us a call at 763.421.6366.
See the Minnesota Department of Public Safety website for more details about the Hands-Free Law and how to go hands-free: https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/hands-free/Pages/default.aspx.