Distracted Driving in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each day approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 people are injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver.

Distracted driving is defined as “driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving. Distracted driving can increase the chance of a motor vehicle crash.”

Types of distracted driving include:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off of the road
  • Manual: taking your hands off of the wheel
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving

Distracted Driving in Minnesota

The Massachusetts-based company TrueMotion that monitors cellphone use for insurance companies reported that Minnesota drivers spent about 15% of every trip on the phone talking, swiping, and texting prior to the hands-free driving law. From 2014 through 2018, more than 60,000 crashes in Minnesota resulted from distracted driving—which accounts for 1 out of every 5 auto accidents in Minnesota. On average, distracted driving led to 45 deaths and 204 severe injuries each year prior to the Minnesota hands-free driving law.

Minnesota’s Hands-Free Driving Law: When It Was Introduced, What it Allows/Does Not Allow, and Penalties

On August 1, 2019, Minnesota’s hands-free driving law went into effect after being signed by Governor Tim Walz in April 2019 with the goal of making Minnesota’s roads safer.

What is Prohibited Under the Hands-Free Driving Law:

  • Holding cellphone in hand
  • Using phone for video calling, Snapchat, gaming, looking at videos or photos stored on the phone, using non-navigation apps, reading texts, scrolling or typing on the phone, video live-streaming
  • Using a smartwatch for anything besides checking the time

What is Allowed Under the Hands-Free Driving Law:

  • Motorists can make emergency 911 calls
  • GPS systems can be used for navigation
  • In-car screens and systems may be used while driving
  • Operating cellphone through voice commands or single-touch activation

Penalties for Violating the Hands-Free Driving Law:

The first ticket for violating the hands-free driving law is $50 plus court costs. Subsequent tickets for violating the law is $275 plus court costs.

Advice on Going Hands-Free from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety

  • Put your phone in a purse/bag, trunk, center console, glove compartment, mounted on the bottommost portion of the dashboard, passenger seat, or cup holder while driving
  • Use a single earphone that has a microphone since using earphones in both ears at the same time while driving is illegal in Minnesota
  • Pair your phone to your current car or truck
  • Buy an auxiliary cable and connect your phone’s earphone jack to your car’s auxiliary input
  • If your car does not have an auxiliary cable but has a cassette player, buy an adapter that fits into the cassette player and you can connect your phone through the earphone jack
  • Buy a holder to clip your phone to the dashboard
  • Buy a Bluetooth speaker or earphone to pair with your phone

Impact of Hands-Free Driving Law in Minnesota

In August 2019, Minnesota law enforcement ticketed 2,317 motorists for violating the hands-free driving law, followed by an 18% increase in September 2019 with 2,729 motorists ticketed.

State Patrol Lt. Gordon Shank associates the increase in tickets with the impulse to use cellphones that is hard for drivers to resist: “Unfortunately, some drivers have become comfortable and are slipping back into old habits when it comes to using the phone while behind the wheel.”

Within the first five months of enforcing the hands-free driving law, more than ¾ of the 9,700 tickets were upheld—only 178 drivers (less than 2%) had tickets dismissed from August 1 through December 31, 2019. More than 2,100 of the tickets were due to activities such as watching videos, playing games, or using other software applications while driving.

Nationwide Impact of Hands-Free Driving Laws

Currently, 22 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have prohibited all drivers from using handheld cellphones while driving in an attempt to decrease distracted driving. All are primary enforcement lawyers, meaning that the officer may ticket the driver for using a handheld cellphone without any other traffic violation occurring.

The Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine’s study “Driver Cellphone and Texting Bans in the United States: Evidence of Effectiveness” concluded that: “all driver bans on hand-held phone conversations have resulted in long-term reductions in hand-held phone use, and drivers in ban states reported higher rates of hands-free phone use and lower overall phone use compared with drivers in non-ban states…Bans on all phone use by teenage drivers have not been shown to reduce their phone use.”

Other Distracted Driving Legislation

Although no states have banned all cellphone use for all drivers, 37 states and the District of Columbia have banned all cellphone use for novice drivers. In addition, 23 states and the District of Columbia have prohibited cellphone use for school bus drivers.

Regarding text messaging, Washington was the first state to pass a legislative ban on texting while driving in 2007. Since then, 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have all banned texting for all drivers and all but three have primary enforcement laws regarding text messaging. Of the two states without an all-driver texting ban, Missouri prohibits texting by novice drivers.

How GoldenbergLaw Can Help You

Our Minnesota car accident attorneys understand that your quality of life, your ability to learn, and your sense of security all can be taken away in the time it takes for a negligent driver to look away from the road. For over 33 years, GoldenbergLaw has helped thousands of accident victims successfully recover physically, emotionally, and financially. We know you have worries about long-term medical expenses, lost income, an inability to work, your family obligations as well as physical and emotional hardships. Our job is to guide you through these hard times and be your trusted advocate. Call us today, and leave the sleepless nights to us.