Minnesota’s Hands-Free cell phone law goes into effect August 1

Beginning on Aug. 1, Minnesota law will require drivers to put down their phones and go hands-free while driving. The state’s hands-free cell phone law makes Minnesota the 19th state, along with Washington, D.C., to enact laws regarding hands-free use while driving.

The new law allows drivers over 18 to use their cell phones 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.

Today, distractions, including those involving cell phone use, are responsible for one-fourth of crashes and one-fifth of fatalities. In 12 of 15 states with data on the impact of hands-free laws, traffic fatalities have decreased by an average of 15%.

Here is what you need to know about the Hands-Free law:

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.

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.

What about drivers under 18?

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). They can use their phone in hands-free mode in the following situations:

Using their phone as a GPS device, but only in hands-free or voice-activated mode. They must set their destination before driving. They can’t hold their phone at any time.

Listening to music or podcasts in hands-free or voice-activated mode is OK, but hand-held scrolling through playlists or channels is not allowed under the law.

Calling 911 in an emergency situation. If there’s an immediate threat to life and safety, they can use the phone in either hand-held or hands-free mode.

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.

Remember, hands-free is not necessarily distraction-free.

Couldn’t I get distracted by my in-car screen or other distractions like eating, grooming, pets, passengers or reading a book? Why aren’t they covered?

Yes, there are many possible distractions when driving, but cell phone use presents a unique and complex challenge and is addressed by the hands-free law. A driver is still expected to avoid other distractions and drive with due care under other Minnesota traffic laws.

Are there penalties?

Yes. The first ticket is $50 plus court fees and the second and later tickets are $275 plus court fees.