In recent months, we have noticed a significant increase in people texting or talking on their phones, with phone in hand, while driving. We saw very good compliance with this law for the first several months to a year of it being enacted; however, as time has gone on compliance has diminished. We would like to remind everyone that Minnesota is a Hands-Free State.

To prevent tragedies due to distracted driving, motorists are urged to:

• Turn off electronic devices and put them out of reach before starting to drive.

• Be good role models for young drivers and set a good example. Talk with your teens about responsible driving.

• Speak up when you are a passenger and your driver uses an electronic device while driving. Offer to make the call for the driver, so his or her full attention stays on the driving task.

• Always wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the best defense against unsafe drivers.

Hands-free cellphone legislation

As stated above, Minnesota is a Hands-Free State, which requires drivers to utilize their cellphones in hands-free mode while their vehicle is moving.  This became effective on August 1, 2019.

It is illegal in Minnesota for drivers to send text messages and emails while driving, including working on their phone and browsing the internet.  Under the Hands-Free Law, drivers can send messages or place calls while driving only if their device is in hands-free or voice-activated mode. The law makes an exception for emergency calls.

This law doesn’t allow manually punching in a phone number or an address into a navigation GPS app or finding a contact or text messages. You may not hold your phone in your hand. Hands-free technology, such as Bluetooth, headsets, earpieces or built in vehicle technology to connect your phone to the vehicle audio system allows a driver to do these things without actually holding their phone.

This law makes roads safer, as distracted driving has increased traffic fatalities state and country wide. This law helps law enforcement keep highways safe as drivers aren’t allowed to have a phone in their hand.  It is also easier to see violations and take effective action.

The penalty for violating the law is a petty misdemeanor, carrying a $50 fine for the first violation and a $275 fine for subsequent violations.

In addition to the distraction of texting and driving, we have seen and have taken several speeding and aggressive driving complaints in recent months, more than normal. Throughout the state we have seen the stories where speeds have increased through the state and several seeding incidents have been on the rise involving very high speeds. This increased speed has led to several serious and fatal crashes, including ones in Cass County.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office and MN Department of Public Safety reminds you that there are serious consequences related to speeding including:

• Citations could cost $100 or more plus court fees.

• Increased insurance fees.

• A motor vehicle crash involving speed could result in criminal or civil penalties.

Higher speeds can lead to bigger problems:

• Greater potential for loss of vehicle control.

• Increased stopping distance.

• Less time for driver response for crash avoidance.

• Increased crash severity leading to more severe injuries and death.

 If confronted with an aggressive driver:

• Get out of their way; disengage. Move to the right, if you are able.  

• Stay calm — reaching your destination safely is your goal.

• Do not challenge them.

• Avoid eye contact.

• Ignore gestures and don’t return them.

• Report aggressive driving (vehicle description, license number, location).

Although these may seem like basic information and tips, we find the need to remind those who we encounter with this information daily.  Keeping this information in mind while you are travelling could make your trip safe and allow you and your passengers to safely arrive at your destination.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, contact me anytime: e-mail tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us; call (218) 547-1424  or (800) 450-2677; or mail Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN 56484

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