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Minnesota builds awareness of new hands-free cellphone law

June 27, 2019
This April 24, 2019 photo shows one of several distracted drivers using a cell phones and spotted by Eagan, Minn., police officers during the "Busted by the Bus" initiative in Egan, Minn. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is trying to raise awareness about a new law that takes effect Aug. 1 that requires drivers to use hands-free devices to talk on the phone while driving. The law bars motorists from holding and using cell phones or other wireless devices while driving. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota safety officials redoubled their efforts Thursday to make drivers aware of a state law that takes effect Aug 1 requiring that motorists use hands-free devices while phoning on the road.

Department of Public Safety officials told reporters they want to make sure every Minnesota resident knows what they can and can’t do before the requirement takes effect in just over a month. Over 1.5 million people have already visited a special website at HandsFreeMN.org to learn about how to comply. The agency is conducting a statewide awareness campaign via radio, billboards and digital ads. And officials urged Minnesotans to start complying now rather than waiting until Aug. 1.

Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol, said drivers can use their phones as long as they’re in hands-free mode with one-touch activation. He said the key point is that they can’t hold their phones while driving. Manually dialing a number will be a violation. Texting while driving is already illegal. Drivers can use the GPS navigation apps in their phones in hands-free mode but they’re encouraged to enter their destination address before they leave instead.

“We want people to pay 100% of their attention toward the task of driving and to minimize distractions,” Langer said. “Just because you’re hands-free does not mean you’re distraction-free. So we’re not encouraging the use of cellphones while driving. We are educating about the law.”

The Legislature passed the law with bipartisan support in its recent session and Gov. Tim Walz signed it in April. A first offense will cost $130 with the fine jumping over $300 for subsequent violations. Minnesota is the 18th state with such a law.

Teens driving under provisional licenses are already prohibited from using cellphones while driving but they can use GPS apps in hands-free mode, Langer said. He encouraged parents to set their own, stricter rules for their kids, while other participants in the news conference urged employers to set their own policies.

“If you must use your phone, please use it hands free,” said Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council. “But ask yourself, ‘Do I have to make this call? Do I have to do this text? Or can I pay attention to my driving?’”

Using a car’s built-in Bluetooth system is an easy way to comply. So are cheap hands-free mounts offered by many retailers. Other options for people with older cars include setting the device to speakerphone. Drivers can use earphones if they’re only in one ear, Langer added.

While Langer said this is a good time for drivers to sit down and learn how to work the technology they already have, he also offered an alternative:

“The simplest, cheapest, available option for everyone is to just not use phone while driving,” he said.

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