Sorry to start on such a negative note, but there are about 75,000 car accidents every year in Minnesota. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.
That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.
What Is Distracted Driving?
The Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety states that, “Distracted or inattentive driving is when a driver engages in any activity that might distract them from the primary task of driving — and increases their risk of crashing.” This can include everything from talking on the phone to checking on what your kids are doing in the back seat. You probably think of texting and using a cell phone as distracted driving, but that's only one small piece of the distracted driving puzzle.
Most distracted driving actions, while dangerous, are perfectly legal. And right now, Minnesota lawmakers are focused mainly on cell phone use, while banning other forms of distracted driving is just a thought.
Distracted Driving Statistics in Minnesota
You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Minnesota:
In 2018, Minnesota police officers wrote approximately 10,000 citations for texting while driving
42% of Minnesota residents surveyed admitted to texting while driving
85% admitted to making or receiving phone calls while driving
44% admitted to eating, shaving, or putting on mak-up while driving
Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Minnesota
Distracted driving is responsible for more accidents in this state than speeding or driving while intoxicated. This highlights the dangers of this very real risk. Some even call DWD ("driving while distracted") the new DWI.
Does Minnesota Have Laws against Distracted Driving?
In 2008, Minnesota was among the first states to make texting while driving illegal. This includes sending and reading text messages while stopped in traffic or at a red light. In 2019, Minnesota became the 17th state to make using a handheld cell phone illegal while driving. This new hands-free law went into effect on August 1, 2019.
The law does allow drivers to touch their phone once in order to activate the phone in order to make a call, send a voice-activated text message, or listen to a podcast. However, multiple touches, like dialing a number, or punching in a destination to your phone's GPS are illegal.
Currently, this state prohibits:
The use of handheld cell phones by all drivers
Text messaging and internet use by all drivers
The use of any kind of cell phone, even hands-free, by drivers under the age of 18
The use of any kind of cell phone, even hands-free, by school bus drivers while the bus is in motion
Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Minnesota?
Exceptions to Minnesota’s distracted driving laws are as follows:
The use of GPS systems is permitted.
Texting is permitted if using voice-activated or another hands-free mode.
Handheld devices for making phone calls are permitted by adults if the call is for the sole purpose of obtaining emergency assistance, to report a traffic accident, to prevent a crime about to be committed, or with the reasonable belief that a person’s life or safety is in danger.
Cell phone use is permitted by drivers under 18 if the call is for the sole purpose of obtaining emergency assistance, to prevent a crime about to be committed, or with the reasonable belief that a person’s life or safety is in danger.
Handheld communication devices are permitted for use by drivers in authorized emergency vehicles while in the performance of official duties.
Minnesota Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?
Is handheld device use permitted?
Any special restriction for young drivers?
Is headphone/headset use permitted?
Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger while Driving in Minnesota?
Yes. And No.
Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a cell phone. Basically, anything that takes your attention away from the primary task of driving presents a potential hazard. In addition to the laws listed above, Minnesota has a bit of a loosely interpreted law against distracted driving.
So, what happens if a police officer in Minnesota spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the road? That depends on the officer and your driving.
If you're clearly in control of your vehicle, you'll probably be fine. There is no law that specifically makes eating while driving illegal. However, if you're swerving or driving erratically while eating that burger, be prepared to get pulled over and cited for reckless or careless driving.
Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off just eating your cheeseburger inside or sitting in the parking lot.
What Is the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?
Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means that the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.
Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.
Minnesota uses primary enforcement.
This means that even if you're obeying all traffic laws and believe that you are in total control of your vehicle while doing so, if a police officer sees you holding your phone to your ear or reading a text message while driving, you can be pulled over and given a citation.
What Is the Fine for Distracted Driving in Minnesota?
Violation of Minnesota’s distracted driving laws is a petty misdemeanor that comes with fines.
The fine is $50 for the first offense, and $275 for any further offenses.
Surcharges added to these fines can range from around $135 for a $50 ticket to $360 for a $275 ticket, so you're actually looking at paying between $185 and $635 for breaking this law.
Minnesota compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions
Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona; however, in 2021, newly enacted cell phone restriction laws will go into effect in Arizona.
Does Distracted Driving in Minnesota Increase Insurance Rates?
A citation for distracted driving in Minnesota is viewed as a moving violation by insurance companies and is therefore likely to cause your insurance rates to increase. And a citation can cause you to lose your good driver discount if you've earned one, and this can make your rate hike even more painful.
What If I Drive into Iowa or South Dakota?
Distracted driving laws vary by state, so if you drive into a neighboring state that has different laws, you may wonder how these laws pertain to you, as a Minnesota resident.
Several states, including Iowa and South Dakota, still allow handheld devices while talking on the phone. Does this mean you can start holding your cell phone to your ear as you cross the border? The answer is, unless those states change their laws, yes you can. But why would you?
Though talking on a cell phone using Bluetooth is still distracting, it is nowhere near as dangerous as holding the phone or dialing numbers while driving. Assuming you’ve already outfitted your car to meet Minnesota’s laws, why not use that technology everywhere you drive?
What Is Minnesota Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving?
Minnesota lawmakers are aware of the dangers that distracted driving poses on this state’s roadways. Their early adoption of texting laws and their recent passage of the hands-free law shows their willingness to be proactive when it comes to getting ahead of this problem.
Also, the state has designated March as Distracted Driving Awareness Month. During this month, groups such as Safe Communities of Wright County take the time to educate the public about the dangers posed by distracted driving.
So What Can You Do?
Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting and the Candy Crush until you get home.