Driver cited for texting about new hands-free law on first day of enforcement

Law enforcement around Minnesota wasted no time issuing citations to drivers who weren’t following the state’s hands-free driving law that went into effect Thursday morning.

Drivers on their morning commutes were subject to warnings, fines and citations as officers and deputies started cracking down on the state’s newest law. State Patrol officials said they issued their first ticket under the new law at 2 a.m. – just two hours after it took effect.

In Eagan, Officer Aaron Machtemes said he cited a driver who was texting a friend about the hands-free law while behind the wheel. The woman also put her phone up to her ear to make a call, Machtemes said.

“She was actually violating the law by texting about the law,” Machtemes said in an interview. “Let’s hope that was the strangest hands-free ticket for the day and everyone just puts their phone down.”

According to the Office of Traffic Safety from 2014 to 2018, distracted driving contributed to an average of 45 deaths and more than 200 life-changing injuries in Minnesota each year. If the law follows the pattern it has in other states, it could reduce traffic deaths by 15 percent, state officials have said.

State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said he would be surprised if any Minnesota driver hadn’t heard about the new law because of the state’s public awareness campaign this summer.

“We run into all types in law enforcement: those that are well-educated, those that are not educated, and those who are educated but obstinate,” he said during a news conference at the Capitol. “That’s why education and citation and warnings all help us to get compliance where it is.”

During the Capitol event, two dozen family members whose loved ones had died in distracted driving crashes shared their own messages about the law. Most held photos of their deceased family members, creating the same display that convinced lawmakers to approve the law this spring.

“When someone says my brother died because of 30 seconds when someone looked away at something, it’s like, really? That’s what made him die? It’s just such an injustice,” said Danielle Wishard-Tudor of Henderson, whose brother Jean-Claude died in a crash in Minnetrista. “Let’s fight to change it.”

Hands-free technology is available at stores around the state and drivers are taking full advantage.

For more information about the hands-free law, visit the Department of Public Safety’s web page.

Hands-free is not the only law now in effect statewide. The new “slowpoke” law, requiring slower drivers to stay out of the left lane and the state’s new indoor vaping ban are also in effect as of Aug. 1.