Minnesota law enforcement officials cited hundreds of drivers in the first week of the new hands-free cell phone law, which makes it illegal to hold a cell phone while driving.
But none of those drivers were in Douglas County.
According to Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels, there have been violations and he expects there will be for some time, but his department has opted for education instead of enforcement during the rollout of the new law.
“It reminds me of education in the very beginning about seat belt use,” he said. “With our enforcement efforts, we are starting out with an aggressive education process – warnings and communication every chance we get.”
Wyffels said officers are also advising motorists of the many hands-free options, including Bluetooth, wearables, single earpieces and more.
“We will be switching to citations in the weeks and months ahead as we try to positively make this important change within our community,” he said.
Douglas County Chief Deputy Jason Peterson said the county is on the same page.
“We took the approach to educate the public on the new hands-free law first,” he said. “Prior to the law coming out, we posted it on the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office social media sites and on the Douglas County website.”
Prior to the county fair Aug. 14-17, the sheriff’s office received 2,500 pamphlets from the Department of Public Safety and handed plenty of them out at the sheriff’s office fair booth, Peterson said. In addition, deputies and other sheriff’s office employees answered questions about the new law while at the fair.
Pamphlets about the new hands-free bill are available in the lobby of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Since the new law went into effect Aug. 1, Peterson said road deputies have primarily been issuing warnings, but that all that will soon change as Labor Day weekend approaches.
Between Aug. 1-7, deputies and state troopers around the state cited 678 drivers for violating the law, according to the Department of Public Safety. The new law makes it illegal to hold a phone while driving, as well as swiping, typing, scrolling or viewing content on a cell phone.
Those who violate the law, which aims at reducing distracted driving related crashes, are subject to a $50 ticket plus court fees on the first offense. This can add up to around $130. The second and subsequent tickets are $275 plus court fees.
Hennepin County handed out the most citations that first week, 286, with Ramsey citing 79 drivers under the new law and Dakota 60.
Of the counties surrounding Douglas, Stearns cited seven drivers under the new law, Pope three and Stevens one. Otter Tail, Grant and Todd issued no citations.
Dana Ferguson of Forum News Service contributed to this article.