Hands free cell phone law in effect Aug. 1

To the editor:

Over the past decade, distracted driving has become one of the leading causes of vehicle crashes on our nation’s roads. In the last five years there have been at least 49 crashes in the city of New Ulm that were caused by distracted driving. The New Ulm Police Department will be partnering with the Heart of New Ulm Project, Brown County Sheriff’s Office, Brown County Public Health, New Ulm Medical Center, Minnesota State Patrol and the Office of Traffic Safety on July 3rd, 2019, to focus on extra enforcement related to distracted driving. The goal of the campaign is to step up enforcement efforts to catch distracted drivers and enforce distracted driving laws.

The new hands free cell phone use law goes in effect on August 1st, 2019. This law allows a driver to use their cell phone to make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts and get directions, but only by voice commands or single-touch activation without holding the phone. Drivers are exempt from using their phones in emergency situations or using navigational applications. The law does not apply to other in-car screens or systems.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), from 2012-2017, nearly 20,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver. In fact, there were 3,166 people killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2017. While this represents a 9 percent decrease in distracted driving fatalities from 2016 to 2017, there is clearly more work to be done.

Over the years, millennials have become the biggest texting-while-driving offenders, using their cell phones to talk, text, and scroll through social media while behind the wheel. According to NHTSA, young drivers 16- to 24-years-old have been observed using handheld electronic devices while driving at higher rates than older drivers since 2007. In fact, in 2017, 8 percent of people killed in teen (15-19) driving crashes died when those teen drivers were distracted at the times of the crashes. And female drivers are most at-risk for being involved in a fatal crash involving a distracted driver.

It seems that every day, you can look out of your car’s window and see a driver using their cell phone. People know texting and driving is dangerous and illegal, but they do it anyway, and it puts others at risk. Beginning July 3rd, you will see increased enforcement efforts, as officers, deputies and troopers will be stopping and ticketing anyone who is caught texting and driving. After August 1st, only hands free operation of a cell phone will be allowed.

Violating distracted-driving laws can be costly. The fine amount for a first time offense is $50 along with court fees. The fine of a second or subsequent offense is $275 plus court fees. It doesn’t pay to use your phone unless it is in a safe, hands free manner.

Chris Davis

New Ulm Police Department

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