Contrary to what you have been told or read, the proposed “hands free” bill in the state Legislature right now will, if enacted, encourage even more deadly driving behavior — rather than discourage it. I believe more Minnesotans will die if this dangerous bill becomes law.

For one thing, the proposed “hands free” bill endorses and supports a behavior called “voice-to-texting.” This is where you use voice commands to send phone messages. The bill also makes legal the receiving of text messages read to you by your phone or by built-in software and speakers in your car.

After similar behaviors were encouraged in the United Kingdom, a study on voice texting showed an increased number of road deaths. Science has shown that the part of your brain that comprehends text being read to you is the same part that recognizes shapes and objects on the road in front of you. In other words: A text read to you creates a blind spot and is more distracting than momentarily looking at your phone. Yet this bill endorses and encourages this behavior.

Also, what happens if you send a voice-to-text message and then collide with another vehicle? Under this bill, police can access your phone and charge you with enhanced criminal penalties for driving while texting even though you sent your message using voice-to-text. That’s because there is nothing on your phone indicating whether you sent your message using voice-to-text or with your thumbs.

In other words, this new law not only increases criminal penalties, but it also doesn’t allow you to defend yourself from prosecution.

It gets worse. The bill exempts police and government officials using laptops while driving. It also will encourage police to stare into neighboring vehicles on the highway to enforce the law, instead of watching the road in front of them. It puts police in danger.

And what about provisions that allow for one-touch dialing? Try swiping a pattern to unlock your phone or holding it in front of your face so facial-recognition-unlock will work. Then click to close the open apps. Now click on the phone app, then the keypad key. Now press and hold the one-touch dial, and voilà — you’re driving while distracted.

This distraction would be legal under this proposed law. But to a police officer watching, it looks like texting.

This proposed law encourages teen drivers to drive with headphones. And it doesn’t address text messages being read on smartwatches — a device merely inches from their face and one that keeps eyes off the road.

Technology has increased driving distractions, but it can also counteract them. Multiple insurance companies have devices that can plug into your OBD-II, or service port, and pair with your phone using Bluetooth. These devices measure and report how hard and frequently your brakes are applied while driving and they adjust driver insurance premiums accordingly. This technology also has the ability to block texts and internet access.

Autonomous vehicles and safety measures are already here. My wife drives a six-year-old vehicle that has three cameras in the windshield. If someone brakes and she doesn’t stop, an alarm sounds. Some cars will even stop. If my wife crosses a line and doesn’t have her signal on, the steering wheel vibrates.

Teslas can drive without the driver doing anything at all. But under this proposed law, Tesla drivers will need to read a paper version of the news going down the road because it will be illegal to read the news on a tablet.

Also, Minnesota already has laws making driving while distracted illegal, which includes texting. Distracted driving is more than just texting. It can apply to driving while putting on makeup, eating tacos or driving with your knees. It means you can’t drive with a beagle on your lap or while sipping a 64-ounce Mountain Dew between your thighs.

Current law implies that distraction is situational. For example, if you are motoring down a rural highway, placing a wireless telephone to your ear may not distract you. But it would be distracting during rush hour or while driving through a busy neighborhood. If you are in traffic, turning or judging whether to yield, put your phone down and pay attention. Lives are at stake.

Last year, a bill was proposed to triple the fine for distracted driving. However, the financial projections for the bill indicated no new revenue would be generated from tripling the fine because the law was so rarely enforced. So making an act illegal does not stop that act from happening.

My state legislator eyes and ears tell me the Legislature is very close to creating chaos on our roads by enacting this bill. I believe the Legislature is being distracted by some well-meaning, well-intentioned people who simply don’t have their eyes on the road.

 

Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, is a member of the Minnesota House.