In August, Minnesota joined 19 other states and enacted a hands-free law making it illegal to handle your phone while driving. This new law goes beyond the basic no texting and driving rules that were already in place. In essence if you are driving a motor vehicle you cannot have your cellphone or any wireless communication device in your hands at all. This may seem a bit crazy considering how much our daily lives revolve around our phones and how often we use our phones in the car. But, the new law does not restrict all use of your cellphone while driving as there are a few exceptions to the new law.
The exceptions relate to the most frequent uses of phones: communication, GPS, and audio. The most important thing to know is that you are free to use your phone as much as you want in voice-activated or hands-free mode, so long as you are not holding your phone. All of the exceptions follow this simple rule, no holding your phone with one or both hands while driving. For drivers of newer vehicles, following this law may be simple as your phone will seamlessly sync to your car allowing for you to do everything you want hands-free. But, for those of you that do not have that ability you can still communicate, use GPS, and listen to audio through your phone if you do it correctly.
To use your phone to send or receive texts and calls you have to do it without holding it. Meaning, any texts have to be read aloud by your phone and responding needs to be done by speech to text instead of the traditional keyboard typing. Calls must be done the same, if your vehicle has Bluetooth then you can have phone calls work through your car’s Bluetooth but if you do not then speaker phone will likely be your best friend. You will also want to get a stand or carrier that can be mounted in your car so that you do not have to hold your phone to use it. GPS is a bit trickier but with preparation avoiding a ticket should be fairly easy. Similar to calling, you cannot hold your phone while using the GPS but you also can not type into the GPS while driving. This means you will want to plug in your destination before you start driving or use voice commands to input your destination.
The audio use exception is fairly simple. As with the other exceptions you cannot hold your phone or audio device in one or both hands but you can still use it. For audio you are allowed to press a button on your phone or audio device but you are not allowed to scroll. The biggest tip to preventing a ticket is to set up playlists, these will allow you to select what you want to listen to before you drive and help prevent you from having to search and find what you want to listen to.
The last thing to remember is that in emergency situations you will be allowed to use your phone. If you are in a crash, reporting a crash, or reporting a situation where someone is in real danger, you can use your phone to call for help. The new hands-free law seems a bit overwhelming and restrictive, but with a bit of planning upfront and potentially the purchase of a car mount or stand avoiding a ticket should be fairly easy. Just remember using your phone is fine, but holding your phone is not. If law enforcement sees you with your phone in your hand, then they will very likely stop your vehicle, which can ultimately lead other offenses, such as a DWI or a drug possession charge.
Benjamin W. Koll is an associate attorney at Ambrose Law Firm, PLLC in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He graduated from Mitchell Hamline School of Law and clerked for a Ramsey County District Court Judge before joining the firm. Woodbury DWI Lawyer; Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney; and Criminal Defense Lawyer Woodbury MN.