Statewide statistics reveal that distracted driving contributed to more than 60,000 crashes during the past five years. A new hands-free law began this week, allowing drivers only one screen touch to activate a cell phone while driving. Law enforcement hopes the measure will save lives.
Devices can no longer be held in a driver’s hand while operating a vehicle. Using a car's Bluetooth technology is allowed, through a console screen, steering wheel buttons or with voice controls, but beyond that, police say the new hands-free law is clear.
“Just, please, put down your phones,” said Jon Urquhart, a captain with Coon Rapids Police. “Nothing is that important out there that you need to get hurt or someone else has to get hurt on this.”
Captain Urquhart says similar laws in other states have reduced crashes.
“Some as high as 15 percent,” he said, “and that's a lot of crashes. That's a lot of people not getting hurt. That's a lot of property not getting damaged.”
A citation for holding a phone while driving, or even while stopped at a traffic light, starts with a $50 fine for the first offense, plus court fees. The fine jumps to $275 for a second offense. Coon Rapids Police plan to educate drivers about the hands-free law during this summer’s Night to Unite block parties on August 6th. They also have free cell phone holders that click into a car vent they plan to hand out at community events. Captain Urquhart says the goal is to help people break their habits.
“We've trained ourselves that we can't put those things down and now we need to un-train ourselves that while we're in our cars and driving, that we need to set those distractions aside, so that we can be safe protecting ourselves and the rest of the people that are on the road.”