New bill would require hands-free phone technology for Minnesota drivers

The deadly crash in Lake Elmo last month was one of the many senseless tragedies here in Minnesota caused by distracted driving that motivated lawmakers to act on a Hands-Free phone technology bill.

There are several pieces of legislation making their way through the Capitol right now that could make Minnesota the 16th state in the country to mandate drivers not to touch their phones while driving.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill have wide bipartisan support. Governor Dayton has also indicated he would sign it into law.

Now the key is to just get it done in time.

On Tuesday, lawmakers heard powerful testimony from a New Prague man who lost his father in 2015.

Greg Tikalsky became emotional as he described how his 70-year-old father was killed by a driver looking down at her phone.

“The driver stated before she hit send, she hit a yellow blur. That yellow blur was my dad,” he said.

Tikalsky joined other families and law enforcement in a push to make Minnesota the 16th state to enforce hands-free driving.

Under the bill, drivers would no longer be able to hold their phones while driving.

“We are all addicted to these cell phones, and my bill does not outlaw cell phone talk or anything like that—you can still talk on the phone, but you just have to use it in a hands free manner,” said Rep. Mark Uglem, one of the co-authors of the bill.

Uglem said the legislation has bipartisan support and is close to becoming a reality.

“I think there’s a learning curve here; people need to learn to put down their phone, put their eyes on the road and their hands on the steering wheel.”

Over in the Senate, there are a few hands-free bills circulating that increase the fine if police catch you holding the phone.

There is more resistance there, but democratic State Senator Jim Carlson is confident his colleagues will do the right thing and make Minnesota roads safer.

“This has got to be the year—we can’t wait. It’s one person per week that’s dying because of inattentive driving,” he said.

If you're using earbuds or a Bluetooth, that would still be allowed under this new law. GPS devices are also OK.

There are a few more committees the bill needs to pass through, and then it could be signed.