A Change for the Better

The Minnesota State Legislature passed the Hands-Free bill in April 2019, and the bill was signed by Governor Tim Walz.
Wendy Weigel

At AAA Minneapolis, we prioritize the safety of our members, the motoring public and those who share the road with them. To reduce dangerous distractions and the number of deaths on our roads, the Minnesota State Legislature passed the Hands-Free bill in April, and the bill was signed by Governor Tim Walz. AAA Minneapolis joined the coalition of supporters and provided our organizational support to the effort.

There are multiple types of distraction that can impact our members’ safety: visual distraction, taking your eyes off the road; physical distraction, taking your hands off the wheel; and cognitive distraction, anything that takes your mind off driving, including listening to the radio, talking to a passenger or on the phone or daydreaming.

While Hands-Free is a step in the right direction, it does not mean drivers will be completely distraction- and risk-free. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released “Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile” in 2013, showing that talking on the phone—even if it is hands-free—is cognitively distracting. That said, the data shows that talking on the phone in a hands-free capacity is less cognitively taxing for a driver than talking on a hand-held device.

There is so much more that can be done on a phone outside of talking on it. By passing hands-free legislation and going to this new single-touch policy, two of the main forms of distraction, visual and physical, are minimized. In addition, violations will be more easily identified by law enforcement than current restrictions on texting while driving, email and internet access, since drivers may not have the device in their hands.

While hands-free is not risk-free and will not solve all the problems with distracted driving, it is a first step in the right direction to change the culture and make the Minnesota roadways a safer place. It is estimated that the new hands-free law could reduce fatalities by 15 percent.

What does this law change mean for you? Starting Aug. 1, Minnesotans will need to keep cell phones out of their hands while driving or face a $50 fine for a first offense and $275 for each additional violation. Drivers can make calls, get directions, and use other functions of their phones including enjoying music and podcasts, but they need to use voice commands or single-touch activation. The only exception to the restriction on holding the phone in your hand is to obtain emergency assistance.

Drive safe!

Wendy Weigel
President & CEO, AAA Minneapolis