August 2019 is being hailed as “Hands-Free Minnesota Month” due to the Chapter 11, HF 50 bill that was signed into law by Gov. Walz taking effect on Aug. 1.

The hands-free bill, signed into law April 12, expands the current Minnesota statute 169.475 that already bans texting, using email, and browsing social media while operating a motor vehicle. This makes Minnesota only the 17th state to ban the use of handheld phone while driving. The other states that have moved to hands-free are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. The U.S. Territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands as well as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Federal District of Washington DC are also hands-free.

During the signing of the legislation that aims to prevent distracted driving, Gov. Walz was quoted as saying “Many of the families who have been affected by distracted driving, and who have been tirelessly advocating for this law, are the reason we’re here today. Minnesotans deserve safe roads and this bipartisan bill helps prevent senseless accidents and improves our public safety.” And Lieutenant Governor Flanagan was in full support of the signing, saying “The safety of our roads and drivers is a priority and this long-needed ‘hands-free’ law will reduce the number of fatalities and injuries that are caused by distracted driving.”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu, Hawaii was quoted as saying “Sometimes I wish there were laws we did not have to pass — that perhaps common sense would prevail, but sometimes we lack common sense.”

Those persons with a newer vehicle should be able to pair the phone and go hands-free immediately. But if your existing vehicle doesn’t have that option here are a few other ways: 1) Use a single earphone with a microphone; 2) An auxiliary cable can connect the phone to the vehicle’s AUX jack; 3) A phone holding clip connected securely to the dash while using the voice activated or single touch mode; 4) Bluetooth speaker or ear piece paired to the phone; 5) Or just don’t use your phone when you’re operating a vehicle, place it in airplane mode and enjoy the drive.

Some startling statistics were reported showing that between 2014 and 2018 over 60,000 crashes (20 percent) were related to distracted driving in Minnesota. In the same time frame distracted driving contributed, on average, to 45 deaths and over 200 injuries per year. For more information relating to the Hands-Free Law please go to www.HandsFreeMN.ORG.

The penalties for violating the hands-free law could cost you over $275 plus court fees. So do yourself, the others on the road, and not to mention your wallet a favor and put down the phone.

Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.