Minn. State Patrol says hands-free law will make it easier to see violations

Updated: July 25, 2019 10:22 PM

Starting August 1, several new laws will go into effect in Minnesota, including the much-talked about "hands-free law."

Law enforcement officials say once the law takes effect, it's going to be a lot easier to catch people breaking the law.

"It's definitely going to be something to think about," said Yolanda Burckhardt, who lives in Minneapolis.

The hands-free law means if you are driving and using your phone to make calls, text, listen to music, or get directions, it has to be by voice commands or with a single touch, without holding the phone.

"If they're doing a lot of punching where it seems like they're texting or they're punching in an address or dialing a number, it's not in the spirit of single touch at that point or voice activation," said Lt. Gordon Shank, of the Minnesota State Patrol.

Shank said it'll make it much easier to enforce distracted driving compared to the current texting while driving law.

"Before, it was a negotiation at the roadside of what they were doing or not doing," Lt. Shank said.

From 2013 through 2018, the State Patrol said texting while driving citations steadily increased from 2,177 in 2013 to 9,545 in 2018. But Lt. Shank admits, even though it'll be easier to catch people in the act, he said that doesn't necessarily mean more tickets because they're hoping drivers just put the phones down.

"If nothing else, we want to save lives, we want people to be able to get where they're going safely and focus on driving and putting the distractions away," Lt. Shank said.

"It's really no adjustment," said Steve Cinquanti, who lives in New York where hands-free has been a law for years.

Cinquanti said even though the law has been in place for years in New York, that doesn't mean everyone listens.

"You'll drive and see people looking down, it's not like it fixed the problem necessarily," Cinquanti said.

"It's very tempting, especially when you're driving, you're unconsciously on your phone," said Joetta Sheekpeh, who lives in Minneapolis. 

Twelve of the 15 states with similar laws have seen a decrease in traffic fatalities by 15 percent, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"If this keeps you from being distracted, yeah, it's a good thing," Cinquanti said.

So buckle up and find a nice comfortable spot for your phone because law enforcement is watching.

"It'll definitely be a behavior change, which will be a good thing," Burckhardt said.

Except for emergencies, if you are caught with your phone in your hand, it's $50 ticket plus court fees. Then, every ticket after that is $275 plus court fees.

For more information on what you can and can't do with your phone while driving, click here.

RELATED: Officers hand out cellphone clips in advance of hands-free law

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Brett Hoffland

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