If you’ve been refusing to read anything on the internet or watch local news or look at billboards for the past few months, you may or may not know that Thursday was the beginning of a new era on the streets of Minnesota.
From now on, you’re no longer allowed to hold your phone while you’re driving. The only exception is if you’re dialing 911.
Some spectators are a little leery of giving cops another reason to pull people over, but there are a lot of Minnesotans who are genuinely excited about this – many of them grieving family members. Distracted driving reportedly causes over 200 serious injuries and 45 deaths a year in our state, and numerous studies have shown how dangerous attempting to use a phone while driving can be.
On Thursday morning, legislators and public safety authorities held a press conference at the Capitol in St. Paul to mark the arrival of the new law – even, as the Minnesota State Patrol’s Colonel Matt Langer put it, “bask in the glory” of its passage and the potential lives saved.
But it was clear from the beginning that this wouldn’t necessarily be glorious from the get-go. The law officially went into effect at midnight Wednesday evening, and State Patrol found its first offender in the west metro a mere two hours later.
And it didn’t stop there. The Golden Valley Police Department issued its first hands-free citation just before 9 a.m. Meanwhile, the Eagan Police Department’s Twitter account started posting a parade of tweets about various drivers breaking the law – one featuring a woman who was literally texting about the hands-free law when an officer pulled her over.
No joke, this driver was texting about the ‘hands free law’ while I was watching her in the next lane. She then put phone up to her ear to make a call. Thanks for spreading the word but COME ON! She was given a citation #HandsFreeMN pic.twitter.com/cRXfYpwGDb— Eagan Police (@EaganPolice) August 1, 2019
St. Paul Police spokesperson Steve Linders says “dozens” of stops were made in the city by 1 p.m. that day. One driver caught using his phone on Rice Street reportedly saw officers heading his way and immediately put it down and apologized, saying “Today’s the day, isn’t it?”
But most drivers, Linders says, claimed ignorance of the law altogether.
“Even though there have been billboards and ad campaigns and announcements, people are still claiming they don’t know,” he says. For now, officers are giving them the “benefit of the doubt,” but in the future, they may not be so lucky.
We shouldn’t necessarily be surprised. Multiple studies have shown that even though the majority of people believe texting while driving is “dangerous,” most do it anyway. The question is whether the threat of getting pulled over makes us more reluctant to take the risk.
In our effort to find out, we join 19 U.S. states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, all of which have similar laws already on the books.