ST. PAUL — Starting Aug. 1, Minnesota law enforcement officers will be able to pull over drivers who hold their phones while behind the wheel in most circumstances.
Under the new law, drivers who hold their phone behind the wheel or otherwise swipe, type, scroll or view content on their cellphones will be subject to tickets and fines.
Law enforcement, public safety, business and health groups have been conducting an awareness campaign to ensure drivers know about the new law and avoid distracted driving.
"Our goal is really about education right now. August 1 the law goes into effect and we've been working hard all across the state of Minnesota to educate, educate, educate," said Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol. "We want people to pay 100% of their attention toward the task of driving and to minimize distractions."
In 2018, the state reported 9,545 texting-while-driving violations that were cited. That number more than quadrupled since 2013.
Law enforcement officers said the state's existing texting and driving laws were difficult to support and joined a coalition of Minnesotans whose loved ones died in distracted driving-related crashes to push for the new law.
Public safety groups say they're confident that outlawing the practice of using phones behind the wheel will reduce distracted driving-related crashes and deaths in the state.
"We've heard the word and we've used the word epidemic. It is that pervasive in our culture, our attachment and our dependency on those electronic devices, so this is something that does require that cultural change," Office of Traffic Safety Director Mike Hanson said.
Here's what you need to know to avoid getting pulled over.
What's not allowed under the law?
You will not be able to hold your phone in your hand or up to your ear while you are driving in the state of Minnesota.
Are there exceptions?
Yes, if you are using your phone in a hand-held mode to call in the event of an emergency or using GPS in a hands-free or voice-activated setting you will be covered. Typing in an address in GPS will not be covered, but using the GPS when you've typed in an address before starting your trip would be allowed.
What if I want to listen to a podcast?
You will still be able to stream podcasts through your phone, but you'll only be able to start them through a voice-activated setting or a one-touch setting. Or you can turn them on before you start your trip.
What if I'm at a stop sign or stoplight?
The law still applies as you're still operating a vehicle. Holding your phone would still be a violation.
Can I text from my smartwatch?
No, the same rules apply as for phones. You can check the time or use the watch in a voice-activated or one-touch setting, but you can't swipe or type to send messages or other communication.
Can I use a headset to talk on the phone?
Yes, as long as you're not holding the phone and only have one earbud in or one ear covered by a headset. Having earbuds in both ears is a violation of state law.
Can I use my phone if it's tucked into a hijab or head scarf?
Yes, you can talk on your phone while driving if a phone is placed to your ear under a head scarf or hijab as long as it doesn't obstruct your vision.
What if I have a flip phone?
Opening a flip phone to answer a call would be allowed if the phone is placed on speaker mode or a driver could otherwise communicate without holding the phone. Texting or dialing on the phone while driving would be in violation of the law.
I'm under 18, does the law apply to me?
Yes, and teen drivers face additional restrictions while behind the wheel. Drivers under the age of 18 can't call, text or otherwise interact with their phones while driving. The exceptions are that teens can listen to music or podcasts and use phones as a GPS while driving as long as those are set in one-touch or hands-free modes. And emergency calls would also be allowed.
I'm not from Minnesota, can I still get pulled over?
Yes. “Anybody coming to Minnesota has to comply with Minnesota law on this issue," Langer said. Out-of-state residents traveling to Minnesota can also expect to see more billboards or other roadway notifications about the law as they enter the state.
What's the penalty for violating the law?
The first offense is a $50 ticket plus court fees, which could add up to around $130, and the second and later tickets are $275 plus court fees
When will officers start enforcing the law?
Aug. 1. Langer said law enforcement officers will begin pulling over drivers that appear to be holding their phones behind the wheel the day the law takes effect.
"Come August 1, if you're driving down with a phone up to your head, it's obviously going to be a violation," Langer said.