Hands-Free Minnesota: New Law Restricts Drivers to Voice-Activated or Single-Touch Cell Phone Use
A new Minnesota law will soon restrict drivers from using or holding their cell phones with their hands while operating a motor vehicle. Effective August 1, 2019, Minnesota will join 17 states and the District of Columbia in requiring drivers to use hands-free mode when operating a motor vehicle. The law passed with bipartisan support earlier this year to address the threat posed by distracted driving, and amends key provisions in Minnesota law to expand and clarify certain terms and increase the penalty for associated violations. Stinson, on behalf of multiple firm clients, played an instrumental role in passing this bill.
Under the new law, drivers can use a cell phone to make calls, listen to music, text and receive directions so long as they are not holding the device with either hand—i.e., drivers will be able to use these functions only via voice command or single touch activation. Drivers are not permitted to scroll through their device while operating a vehicle, and are also prohibited from manually entering phone numbers or destination addresses. The statute’s prohibition applies any time a motor vehicle is in motion or part of traffic, which includes being stopped at a red light. The law does include limited exceptions for emergency situations and reporting traffic hazards or potential crimes. A violation carries a penalty of $125 ($50 base fine plus $75 court surcharge) for a first-time offense and $350 ($275 base fine plus $75 court surcharge) for the second and any subsequent violations.
The new law presents employers with an opportunity to develop or update a written cell phone and wireless communications device policy that accounts for the changes. After August 1, employees that are involved in a motor vehicle accident on the job while using an applicable device could expose their employers to liability for failing to create and communicate a written policy about device use. This is especially true for those employees who are required to use cell phones in their vehicles. Employees should be educated on the options they have to use cell phones in the car during work, and a written policy should include examples of ways to comply with the new law. For more information on the changes and potential options for going hands-free, visit the Department of Public Safety’s website.