A new hands-free law to combat distracted driving goes into effect Aug. 1 — and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) wants to make sure all Minnesotans know about it.
As part of a broader effort to educate the public, DPS hosted a real-time Facebook chat Wednesday to field questions about the law. The state has also launched a website and has used social media “almost daily” to distribute informative tidbits and field questions about the law, according to DPS spokesman Scott Wasserman.
After technical difficulties caused a delay, the live chat attracted nearly 50 questions and comments for about 25 minutes. The video featured DPS’ Office of Traffic Safety Director Mike Hanson and State Patrol Col. Matt Langer answering questions in real time.
Because it was social media, a few commenters commented on other commenters, and others strayed off point. But overall, DPS officials seemed pleased with the result and said they may consider doing more live chats on the hands-free law.
Texting while driving is already illegal in Minnesota. While the new law permits drivers to use their cellphones to make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts and get directions, that can be done only by voice commands or single-touch activation.
“This law is very simple,” Hanson said. “Hands free means hands free.”
In addition, drivers may not use their phone for video calls or livestreaming, Snapchat, gaming, watching videos, using non-navigation apps, reading texts or scrolling or typing on the phone.
A recent statewide enforcement effort among more than 300 law enforcement agencies gave some hint of what’s to come. Officers cited 1,927 motorists for texting and driving from April 8 to April 30.
Some egregious examples cited during the campaign include a 35-year-old man in St. Paul who admitted playing chess on his phone, a 32-year-old woman in Blaine watching the TV show “Parks and Recreation” and a 34-year-old motorist in Grand Marais who was texting to arrange a babysitter with two small children in the car.
“We’ve seen it all,” Langer said Wednesday.
Several people on Wednesday asked about using GPS while driving. Systems that can be used only for navigation are exempt from the law, and so are in-car screens and systems. Usually, those systems lock when the vehicle starts moving. If drivers are using GPS on their phones, it must be hands-free or voice-activated. “You can’t be tapping or scrolling,” Langer said.
Another person asked about penalties. The first ticket is $50, the second and later tickets are $275 — and all have added court fees. One question involved people using cellphones while they’re tucked in a scarf or a hijab. That’s OK as long as the phone is tightly secured, doesn’t block the driver’s vision and remains hands-free.
When a participant asked if drivers should go hands-free today, the DPS duo nodded in full agreement.