The Minnesota hands-free law forbidding drivers from holding phones and other electronic devices while behind the wheel got lots of attention as it was debated in the Legislature and became state law on Aug. 1.
But Minnesota isn’t the only place with new rules restricting phone use while driving.
City officials in Hudson, Wis., a few weeks ago enacted their own hands-free bill outlawing drivers from using phones within city limits. And that might be the start of a bigger push to extend the ban across the Badger State.
“My hope is to jump-start the push for a Wisconsin state law in Madison so we can get a law later this year,” Thomas Goeltz said.
Goeltz knows how families can be devastated in an instant when motorists drive distracted. His 22-year-old daughter, Megan, the mother of a 3-year-old and pregnant with her second child, was killed in February 2016 when a driver believed to have been distracted by his phone went into a ditch, vaulted into the air and hit her car as she sat at a stop sign on Hwy. 95 south of Stillwater.
Goeltz spent the next three years pushing for Minnesota lawmakers to make it illegal for drivers to hold a phone to dial, answer, talk, listen, send or read a text or e-mail message, or manipulate their devices in any other way while behind the wheel. After Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law, Goeltz turned his attention to his hometown of Hudson, and asked the city’s Common Council to follow Minnesota’s lead. Hudson’s Public Safety Committee signed off on the proposal, and on Aug. 5, the council approved the new ordinance by a unanimous vote.
“It is a good thing,” said Hudson Police Chief Geoff Willems. “I think the community expects it at this point.”
Since Wisconsin does not have a statewide law, city ordinances banning cellphone use may catch drivers off-guard if they don’t live in the community. So Hudson is taking a gentle approach to helping drivers adjust to the new law before hitting them with a $98 ticket.
For the next few months, Willems said police will hand out “What You Need to Know” pamphlets with every traffic stop that officers make, regardless of the reason an officer pulled a driver over. Signs also have been posted throughout the city to educate drivers and remind them that holding a phone near their ear is enough to trigger enforcement.
Goeltz said he was thrilled Hudson acted so quickly. He hopes that within a year Wisconsin will be the 19th state with a hands-free law.
“That’s fairly optimistic, but I am optimistic,” Goeltz said.
MnDOT sign messages on 511
Overhead electronic message boards on highways and freeways broadcast travel times, warn drivers about construction and crashes, and display notices about road conditions.
Drivers can read messages while they are on the road, but many wanted to see them featured on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s traveler information website, 511mn.org.
“We have received many requests,” said Garrett Schreiner, a MnDOT freeway operations engineer.
This summer MnDOT added them to the website.
“Travelers are able to see what signs are deployed statewide,” Schreiner said. “Displaying these signs gives travelers another source of information they can use when planning their route.”
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