Distracted driving is a leading cause of auto accidents and fatalities, and studies have shown that a distracted driver is just as dangerous to other motorists as a driving drunk.
Not surprisingly, lawmakers in Minnesota and nationwide have taken aim at distracted driving. Texting while driving is now illegal in 48 states and the District of Columbia, and 19 states have banned any hand-held phone use at all while driving.
In fact, Minnesota is one of the most recent states to pass a “hands-free” law. This new law broadens existing legislation that currently prohibits texting while driving.
So what, exactly, does a “hands-free” violation mean? We’ve put together a guide covering the new law, and the consequences you could face for a violation.
What’s Not Allowed According to Minnesota’s New “Hands-Free” Law
Minnesota’s new hands-free law took effect on August 1st, 2019. The legislation targets distracted driving.
The law bars drivers from holding a cell phone or other wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle that is in motion or in traffic on a street or highway.
It specifies that drivers will be required to use hands-free technology when making calls, sending messages, or accessing other content — including navigation software and audio — while behind the wheel.
Most Violations Are Punishable by a Fine in Minnesota
In most cases, hands-free violations are payable offenses, meaning that like a speeding ticket, these infractions are punished by a fine. Under the law, the Judicial Council is allowed to set the fine amount.
Under Minnesota law, payable offenses are not technically crimes and do not require a court appearance. You can pay the citation online, although failure to do so can result in the suspension of your driver’s license.
Currently, the fine for a first offense is $50. A second offense is punishable by a $275 fine. Tickets are also subject to a $75 surcharge associated with all criminal and traffic offenses.
What Happens When Distracted Driving in MN Causes an Accident
A fine doesn’t sound so bad, right? Well, the real “teeth” of Minnesota’s new hands-free law come into play when your distracted driving causes an accident.
If you’re found to have been holding or looking at your phone at the time of an accident, you can be charged with careless or reckless driving, both of which are criminal offenses.
Driving a vehicle carelessly in such a way as to endanger another person is considered careless driving. Driving a vehicle while aware that you’re posing a substantial risk to others’ safety and disregarding that risk is considered reckless driving.
Minnesota Penalties for Careless or Reckless Driving Charges
Both careless driving and reckless driving are misdemeanors and are punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. If reckless driving causes the death of another party, the penalty increases to up to one year in jail, a $3,000 fine or both.
Moreover, you will be left with a criminal record that could compromise your employment prospects, especially if any aspect of your job involves operating a motor vehicle.
In addition to the criminal consequences, you’re also likely to face civil liability costs if you seriously injure or kill another party as a result of reckless or careless driving.
Similar to a DWI conviction, you could also be required to carry high-risk insurance after a reckless or careless driving conviction.
It’s such an easy choice to make — not only for the sake of your wallet (and for the sake of time), do it for yourself. Stay safe by using hands-free features, or simply waiting until you’ve reached your destination to talk.
In the event you do wind up facing charges of a “hands-free” violation, an experienced Minnesota defense attorney can advise you on the best next steps.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).