This weekend, the Hopkins Police Department will start handing out free phone clips to motorists. It's a smart, practical way to inform drivers about a new state law — and help them comply.
Starting Aug. 1, Minnesota motorists will be prohibited from holding cellphones or other electronic devices while driving. After the hands-free law was introduced and discussed for much of the last decade, state lawmakers earlier this year finally passed the law to reduce distracted driving.
Now that it's the law, Hopkins police used their crime prevention funds to buy more than 1,500 phone clips that can be attached to a vehicle's air vent or dash. The clips, stamped with the words "Hopkins Police" and "Hands-Free," will be distributed during the city's Raspberry Festival, and officers will give them to motorists during routine traffic stops.
"This is going to be a major change, and people are going to have to adapt their habits quickly," said Sgt. Mike Glassberg of Hopkins police. The department will also pass out 2,000 orange rubber bands that read "Don't Tempt Fate" to put around phones as reminders. And in Dakota County, the Sheriff's Department also plans to distribute phone clips at upcoming events.
The law is clear: Do not pick up, handle, type or scroll on or otherwise use your hands on your precious cellphone while behind the wheel. Not even if you are idling at a traffic light or stop sign. If you do, you'll be breaking the law and could receive a citation that comes with a $50 fine for a first offense and $275 for a second. Motorists can use voice commands or a single-touch activation cellphone or other device.
Minnesota will join 16 other states with similar laws. Based on their experiences, lives will be saved. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that most of those states had fewer traffic fatalities during the first two years after implementing hands-free laws.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, distracted driving was a factor in more than 60,000 crashes across the state between 2014 and 2018. DPS data also show that cellphones or electronic devices contributed to 20% of serious injuries or deaths caused by distracted driving in 2016 and 2017. Preliminary figures released in April showed that 27 people were killed and 178 were seriously injured in distracted-driving incidents in 2018.
Many families directly affected by those grim statistics helped move the wise restriction into law. Their emotional, painful stories about losing loved ones put human faces on the deaths caused by making a call, sending a text or checking Facebook while driving.
Hands-free legislation aims to prevent those types of needless, preventable deaths and injuries. Kudos to those law enforcement agencies that are helping drivers follow the lifesaving new law.