La Crescent police respond to new Minnesota hands-free cellphone law

Distracted driving claims thousands of lives every year and Minnesota has a new law in place to help fix the problem. Governor Tim Walz signed a bill Friday that will force drivers to use hands-free technology when using cellphones.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 3,100 people were killed in 2017 because of distracted driving.

“There are so many unnecessary crashes that occur due to distracted driving,” said Chief Doug Stavenau, of the La Crescent Police Department.

The new law makes using a cellphone in the car illegal unless it is connected to technology that allows the driver to operate the phone while keeping both hands on the wheel.

“Your car would either be enabled with a Bluetooth device or a capability of operating your phone while your hands maintain control of the vehicle on the steering wheel,” Stavenau said.

Violators will have to pay $75 for their first offense and $240 dollars if it happens again.

“It’s all right to have cellphones in the car but you should not be talking on a cellphone when you’re driving,” said Howard Baumgartner, a La Crescent resident.

Texting and driving is already illegal in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, but Wisconsin still allows hands-on cellphone use. Some local Wisconsin residents say they support the new law.

“I think it’s a great idea to go hands-free,” said Jennifer Beth, a Sun Prairie resident. “For me, it’s a huge thing that bothers me when I am driving past someone and I see that their eyes aren’t on the road.”

Local law enforcement agencies say it only takes a fraction of a second from when you look down at your phone for something to go completely wrong.

“We can’t emphasize enough that, in that millisecond, a tragedy can occur,” Stavenau said.

He said, even though using a cellphone may not lead to a ticket, a simple text or call that couldn’t wait a few extra minutes.

“That could be your son, your daughter, your wife, your relative who is impacted by that. How would you feel in that situation where it was so unnecessary?” Stavenau said.

The law will go into effect Aug. 1. La Crescent Police officials say they will have more officers in unmarked vehicles keeping an eye out for drivers on their phones.

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