Minnesota’s recent law banning the use of handheld cellphones while driving will improve safety for motorists and truckers alike, according to Minnesota Trucking Association President John Hausladen.
Gov. Tim Walz signed the “hands-free” bill into law April 12 in an effort to reduce distracted driving incidents. The legislation bans the use of handheld cellphones while driving but allows drivers to use voice-activated commands or single-touch activation for other tools, such as GPS navigation and music apps.
The National Transportation Safety Board reports that nearly 10% of all traffic fatalities are caused by distracted driving, such as glancing at a cellphone or simply not paying attention.
“I think we all know everything we do in this building has a real person behind it, and today that becomes more apparent than ever,” Walz said at the signing ceremony.
Under the law, people are allowed to hold a phone only when calling for emergency assistance or while performing official duties in an authorized emergency vehicle. In-vehicle screens and systems such as electronic logging devices also are permitted, as many of these lock when the vehicle begins moving.
The Minnesota Trucking Association, the Minnesota Safety Council and the Insurance Federation of Minnesota were among the earliest groups to promote the legislation. Hausladen noted that the law won’t really impact daily operations for truckers, who already are federally prohibited from using handhelds.
“Essentially, dispatching software and ELDs are taken care of and should not be affected by this,” Hausladen said. “We knew it can be done. As a safety organization, we saw this as a great opportunity to provide leadership in this area.”
Drivers found in violation of the law will receive a $50 ticket for the first charge and a $275 ticket for subsequent charges.
In addition to support from a coalition of more than 30 businesses and advocacy groups, Hausladen said the families who had lost loved ones to crashes served as an important catalyst for advancing the legislation. When he signed the bill, Walz was surrounded by people holding pictures and signs honoring deceased victims of roadway accidents.
Hausladen said that reducing distractions will benefit passenger vehicle drivers and truckers. He noted that, in more than half of the instances in which cars and trucks collide, the collision occurs because the car driver ran into the truck.
“We think we are especially vulnerable because of that data, so we think it’s going to make it safer for truck drivers because people are going to be running into us less,” Hausladen said. “When we talk to drivers and ask them what’s their No. 1 issue, it’s distracted driving. They want all drivers to put down the phone and drive.”
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The law builds on previous statutes that banned texting, e-mailing and browsing social media while driving. Hausladen noted that the texting ban was almost unenforceable because, if an officer pulled someone over, the errant driver could claim to be using their phone for legal purposes, such as navigation.
Minnesota’s law will become effective Aug. 1. Minnesota will join 16 others states and Washington, D.C., that have banned using handheld phones while driving.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety will conduct educational programs to instruct drivers about the new law.
“This is about creating a culture that says driving is our primary focus,” Hausladen said. “We have to change this behavior, and this is one small step.”