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COOK COUNTY, MINNESOTA - August 4, 2019 (LSN) TThe hands-free bill becomes law on Aug. 1, 2019, requiring that drivers use their cell phones only with the aid of a hands-free device or by using a voice activated method while driving.
What does “hands-free” mean?
Voice activated and hands-free use are defined by Minnesota Statute 169.475 subd. 1c as, “attachment, accessory, wirelessly paired or tethered capability, application, wireless connection, or built-in feature of a wireless communications device or a motor vehicle that allows the person to use verbal or single touch commands to:”
- Activate or deactivate the device; and
- Activate or deactivate a function or software application of the device. Voice-activate or hands-free mode does not include typing or scrolling a device.
- For purposes of this section, a motor vehicle is not in motion or a part of traffic if the vehicle is lawfully stopped, is in a location that is not designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel and is not obstructing traffic.
Smart watches are also addressed in the law. Drivers can use them as a conventional watch to check time, but they cannot type, text or do the other things prohibited under the hands-free law.
Exceptions to the rule.
Exceptions to these requirements are built into the law, including that drivers may view or operate a global positioning system (GPS) or navigation system or listen to audio-based content (without typing or scrolling while in motion or part of traffic). A driver may also report a traffic accident, medical emergency or traffic hazard or act to prevent a crime from being committed without violating the law.
Finally, there are exceptions for emergency responders acting while performing official duties, and for citizen drivers who get an emergency message or are acting in the reasonable belief that the person’s life is in danger. Having a cell phone tucked into a headscarf or head wrap is not against the hands-free cell phone law, but the phone must be securely situated to remain hands-free and must not block the driver’s vision in any way.
No cell phone use allowed at all by teen drivers under 18 years old or by those driving with a driver’s permit or provisional driver’s license.
A new driver in these categories cannot make or answer calls while driving, even if using the phone “hands-free,” except in the following situations:
- Using their phone as a GPS device, but only in hands-free or voice-activated mode.
- Listening to music or podcasts in hands-free or voice-activated mode. Hand-held scrolling through playlists or channels is not allowed under the law.
- Calling 911 in an emergency.
Penalties for violating the law increase dramatically after the first offense.
The first ticket is $50 plus court fees, and the second and later tickets are $275 plus court fees. Remember, hands-free is not necessarily distraction-free, and distracted driving is a separate driving offense that could include distractions other than using a phone.
The Minnesota Safety Council has assembled a tool kit to give you easy access to everything you need to understand the new law and educate yourself, your employees and their family members.
- Visit the Minnesota Safety Council's Hands-Free Resource Page where you'll find plenty of practical information for businesses. Be sure to check out our how-to video and these downloadable handouts. They're great reference tools you can share with employees.
- The Minnesota Department of Public Safety's HandsFreeMN page also has a variety of educational materials available for Minnesotans.
Should you have questions, please don't hesitate to contact the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Cook County Attorney’s Office or the Minnesota State Patrol. Thank you for your commitment to making all Minnesotans safer through education on this new law.
Hands Free Law. (2019). Retrieved from https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/hands-free/Pages/default.aspx
Get Ready for Hands Free Minnesota. (2019). https://www.minnesotasafetycouncil.org/traffic/handsfree.cfm
County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.
By: Cook County Sheriff’s Office in Collaboration with the Cook County Attorney’s Office