‘Hands-free’ bill clears Senate floor, awaits governor’s signature

On Thursday, the final legislation to prohibit drivers from placing phone calls outside of hands-free mode was approved by the full Senate. The final bill, known as the ‘hands-free bill’ and authored by Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), is the result of negotiations between differences between the House and Senate bill language.

“Cell phone abuse on the roadways is a growing problem. This isn’t about restricting liberties; it’s a matter of public safety,” said Senator Newman. “This is bipartisan legislation that comes out of months of work between the House, Senate, and stakeholders, with the goal of getting drivers to use their phones in a hands-free manner – or put it down.”

The bill requires drivers to use cell phones in hands-free mode for voice-activated calls. Functions such as navigation and music would still be allowed, along with podcasts and other audio-based content, if used without holding the device, typing, or scrolling. The law would not apply to drivers in vehicles legally parked outside of traffic or for emergency calls. State law already bans texting, using email, and web browsing while driving. The penalty for violating the law is a gross misdemeanor, carrying a $50 fine for the first violation and a $275 fine for subsequent violations.

The legislation awaits the signature of Governor Tim Walz. If the bill is signed into law, it would go into effect on August 1, 2019.

“More and more Minnesotans are being seriously injured or killed because of irresponsible, distracted driving. Drivers have a responsibility to themselves, their passengers, and the others on the road. We need to reinforce just how dangerous cell phone use while driving can be, and that’s what this bill is intended to do,” Senator Newman continued.

Senator Scott Newman, of Hutchinson, is in his third term representing District 18, which includes communities in McLeod, Meeker, Sibley, and Wright counties. Senator Newman serves as chairman of the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

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