Friendly reminder from AAA: hands-free is not risk-free

Starting Aug. 1, 2019, Minnesota joined 19 other states in enacting a “hands-free” cell phone law to prevent deadly crashes caused by distracted driving. It’s estimated that more than 60,000 crashes were distracted driving-related from 2014-2018, contributing to nearly one in five crashes in Minnesota. 

 AAA, while supporting the new law, is also cautioning drivers about other factors that lead to crashes. “Just because you can use hands-free technology, doesn’t mean it is safe to do so,” stated Mark Peterson, spokesperson for AAA-The Auto Club Group. 

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist for up to 27 seconds after using voice commands to change music, dial a phone number or send a text.  In 27 seconds, traveling at 25 miles per hour, a driver will travel the distance equal to the length of three football fields.

 “AAA research shows that drivers who use voice-based technology are still distracted. When using this technology, your hands are on the wheel and eyes on the road, but your mind may not be on the task of driving. AAA urges drivers to minimize all distractions while behind the wheel, and focus on the road. 

Get in the habit of turning the cell phone off or storing it away each time you get behind the wheel. “If you must make a call or text someone, drive your car to a safe place and pull off the roadway,” he stated.

The new law prohibits drivers in Minnesota from having a phone in their hand while operating a motor vehicle on the road. A driver may use the phone as a GPS in a hands-free or voice-activated mode only. If a driver needs to see the map, mount the phone to the dashboard.  Built-in and or navigation only system are exempt from this law.

Smartwatches are considered an electronic communication device under the hands-free law.  That means the device has the same restrictions as a cell phone.  Drivers can use a smartwatch the same way they use a cell phone as long as it’s by one-touch or voice activation.  Drivers can’t type, text or do the other things prohibited under the hands-free law. Drivers can use their phone to obtain emergency assistance or if there is an immediate threat to life and safety.

Parents should remember that under Minnesota’s Graduated Driver License program, teen drivers are not allowed to use cell phones, even with wireless technology.

The penalty for a first conviction of the hands-free law is $50 plus court fees. Second and subsequent convictions are $275 plus court fees.

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Info provided by AAA.