Minnesota Ban on Device Use While Driving Likely in 2019

Earlier in January, Minnesota state lawmakers gathered to discuss – yet again – the possibility of introducing a law that would make the use of cell phones while driving illegal in many instances. These proposals have been heard before, but what’s new this time? Are lawmakers supporting such a move? What exactly is at stake?

Minnesota’s Current Laws

Currently, Minnesota already bars some cell phone use that may cause distractions while driving. According to the Department of Public Safety, this includes texting, reading texts, or accessing a phone’s internet capabilities while in the process of driving or participating in traffic – including while stopped at red lights or stop signs. Any drivers who have an accident while performing any of these activities will receive a reckless driving or careless driving charge.

The 2019 Proposed Law

As discussed in January of 2019, a new law would make it illegal to handle your phone at all, including dialing numbers and receiving calls. The only way drivers could access voice calls would be with voice commands through the phone’s own hands-free settings, or via one-touch options available through on-dash systems already linked with a car’s Bluetooth settings.

According to the DPS, the current laws regarding texting and internet usage aren’t strong enough – the goal is to keep drivers’ hands off their cell phones at all times. Currently, teenage drivers under 18 and bus drivers cannot have any sort of access to cell phones, hands-free or not. This will not change with the proposed law. However, the law would put Minnesota in a class with at least 16 other states and the District of Columbia that currently enforce hands-free laws.

Who Is in Support?

Similar measures found support in 2018 but were ultimately met with opposition as well. Many lawmakers, particularly those from rural areas, tended to stop short of the idea of a ban. The opponents claimed that banning the use of devices altogether was an imposition of personal rights, and that the state could more effectively solve the problem by enforcing current laws. However, many have since changed their minds after hearing testimony from family groups.

Governor Tim Walz has expressed his support for such a law, joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that feel the state needs to make existing laws stronger. DPS has agreed, adding that they should more strictly enforce the current and the new law and potentially impose more severe fines. In addition, the Minnesota Safety Council, the Minnesota Trucking Association, several insurance companies, and a family group have supported the ban.

Victim’s Relatives Coalition

A coalition of relatives of hundreds of victims of distracted driving accidents have previously called for the ban, citing an average of 53 deaths, and rising each year from distracted driving. Many give the group credit for keeping the issue at the forefront of legislators’ minds even after its failure last summer. Lawmakers killed the bill on the floor for a fourth straight year in 2018, but the family group has garnered support from a greater number of lawmakers this year, bringing the bill back into contention for passing in 2019.

What Does This Mean for Minnesota in 2019?

Though deaths have continued to mount since the discussion began in 2015, families hold out hope 2019 will be the year a law finally passes. The hope is that this law would primarily reduce accidents caused by distracted drivers but could also ease the process for families and victims attempting to recover costs incurred in these accidents. Putting a law on the books marking all cell-phone use illegal would streamline proving negligence in cases involving voice calls.

Injured in a Distracted Driving Accident? Contact Knutson + Casey

If you or a loved one has been injured by an accident caused by distracted driving, contact our office today to schedule a free initial consultation and case evaluation. Our attorneys have decades of experience fighting for the rights of victims, and can help you receive fair compensation for your damages.