Four words no one wants to hear: “We need to talk.” But that’s what the Minnesota Legislature has decreed for drivers who use cellphones. “Hands-free” rules go into effect Aug. 1, and drivers who ignore the law likely will find themselves chatting with a police officer.
The law means that you can’t have your phone in your hand while you are driving. “One-touch functions” will still be allowed if the phone is accessed without holding it, typing or scrolling.
This means that you will need something to hold your phone so you can tap, but not type. And you’ll need the blessing of a 10th-century Nordic monarch — but we’ll get to that in a moment.
You can comply with the law by buying a brand-new car that routes your cellphone through the radio and is activated by a button on the steering wheel. But let’s say that you don’t want to spend $35,000 right now. There are workarounds for older cars that cost about $34,950 less.
To set up your rig, the first step is to get a phone mount. It’s not necessary, but it keeps you from fishing around because your phone was on the passenger seat until you went around that last corner and it slid off between the seat and the door.
Your mounting options are twofold:
1. Something that plugs into your air vent. You’ll find innumerable options online; most sell for under $25. Upside: Most of them hold the phone with a magnet, so you don’t have to worry about finding a cradle that’s the exact size for your phone. Downside: You have to put a thin magnet on the back on your phone, which may ruin your carefully managed accessory aesthetics.
2. Something that suction-mounts on the dash. The price is about the same. Some have adjustable brackets, but again, magnets are easiest. The upside is the same as with the air-vent clip. Downside: Something sticking up on your dash can be distracting. But now you can remove the dashboard statue of St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost objects, because you no longer will lose your cellphone every time you go around a corner.
Note: Magnets aren’t always included with these kits, so check the particulars. You can order them cheap — usually a buck a throw — on Amazon.
Now that you have a place to put your phone where you can see it, you have to find a way to communicate with it. Again, there are two options. Well, three, if you include yelling at the phone, but really, two.
1. A Bluetooth speaker. There are dozens of small speakers that clip to your sun visor. The Avantree CK11 detects when you open your car door and automatically connects to your phone. It’s $30 on Amazon.
Whatever model you get, check the specs for battery life. The Avantree says you get 600 hours of standby time and 22 hours of talk time. That sounds like a lot, but there will come a day when it runs dry because “we need to charge the car’s Bluetooth speaker” is not a phrase that occurs to anyone.
If you don’t want to have one more thing to charge, consider a unit that connects to what your car’s owner’s manual refers to as an auxiliary power outlet but you call the cigarette lighter. The Nulaxy KM18 sells for $23 on Amazon.
2. A Bluetooth earpiece. Perhaps you think, “I have nice, white Apple EarPods or whatever they’re called; I already use those to talk on my iPhone because I am a cool, modern person.” Sorry: State law already bans drivers from using “headphones or earphones that are used in both ears simultaneously.”
Note that the law says both ears. You can, however, plug one ear. A single earbud can be had for less than $20.
There is one other way you could comply with the hands-free law: You could just let the call go to voice mail. Cast your mind back to the mist-shrouded eras of ancient history, when you didn’t talk on the phone in your car unless you were a mentor of the royal family sitting in the back seat, ferried around by Jeeves. (Don’t get all panicky about cellphone withdrawal. It’s an option, that’s all.)
Speaking of royalty: We mentioned a 10th-century Nordic king. That would be Harald Gormsson, who ruled over Sweden and Norway. He had a bad tooth with a darkish hue, and the word for “blue” meant “blue-black.” He was known as Bluetooth, although not by anyone who wanted to be popular at court. The logo on your Bluetooth device is made of the king’s initials.
His predecessor was Gorm the Old, and perhaps we’re lucky we don’t use Gormold to connect our devices. But his successor was Sweyn Forkbeard, and that sounds much cooler. Maybe when cars are all self-driving robots, we’ll be chatting on Forkbeard devices that we bought on yangtze.com.