DPS: Distraction-related fatalities drop since 'hands-free law' enacted

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Minnesota law enforcement authorities are urging drivers to "park the phone" and commit to driving hands-free.

Since the law went into effect on Aug. 1 last year, 9,727 drivers were cited, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) said.

"Distraction is real," Mike Hanson, Director of the DPS Office of Traffic Safety. "And that's why we have a hands free law in Minnesota. It's designed to get drivers to focus on that critical driving task and not to be distracted by the electronic devices within their vehicle." 

State Patrol troopers and law enforcement officers throughout Minnesota have seen an increasing number of drivers using hands-free options such as mounts. However, some drivers who have been stopped say they know about the new law but are having a hard time breaking the habit. The first ticket is more than $120, which includes the fine plus court fees. The second and later tickets are more than $300, which includes the fine plus court fees.

The new DPS campaign, which will run through Feb. 16, reminds drivers to break their bad habits and use only hands-free options to use a phone when behind the wheel.

DPS said the good news is officers have seen a growing number of people using hands-free options, such as mounts, since the law went into effect.

New hands-free law now in effect

Since the law went into effect, DPS said 182 fatalities have been reported through Jan. 12, and nine of those were distraction-related (5%). Those numbers are down from the same time period a year earlier, when 201 people were killed in crashes and 14 were distraction-related (7%).

"I would say that the law is working," said Hanson. "The fact that law enforcement saw and identified and took action almost 10,000 times in the last 5 1/2 months, it shows us the law is effective and it is very workable from a law enforcement standpoint. We just need more Minnesota drivers top make that decision to park the phone. Be distraction-free when you're behind the wheel." 

Of the 9,727 drivers cited between Aug. 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2019:

  • 3,518 were 16-29 years old
  • 4,520 were 30-49 years old
  • 1,655 were 50-75 years old

DPS also said distracted driving contributed to more than 60,000 crashes from 2014-2018, and averaged 45 deaths and 204 life-changing injuries per year during that time.

You can find more information on the "hands-free law" here.