Senate sends hands-free bill to Walz

A bill that bans Minnesota drivers from holding cellphones is headed to Gov. Tim Walz for his signature.

The Senate voted 48-12 Thursday to pass the bill, which the House passed earlier in the week by a vote of 107-19.

The measure would make holding a cellphone while driving illegal in all but rare instances. The ban would take effect in August. Getting caught with a phone could come with a $50 fine, but the penalty would top $200 for repeat offenses.

State public safety officials say 1 in 5 crashes in the state over the last five years was due at least in part to distracted driving, some of that as drivers attend to their smartphones. Authorities believe distracted driving now kills more than 50 people a year on Minnesota roads. Federal officials say the toll nationally was over 3,000 in 2017 alone.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, told his colleagues his bill doesn't ban the use of electronics behind the wheel, but there will be very tight restrictions.

"Operators will be able to use either GPS or audio, but you best have your podcasts and your GPS loaded up and ready to go, because you cannot keyboard and you cannot scroll," Newman said as senators prepared to vote.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, also urged passage by his colleagues.

"This will help us again, I think, continue that downward trajectory of serious injury, of lives that are lost, of families that are torn apart and in mourning. We heard so many stories of tragedy and heartbreak in committee year in and year out and again this year."

Minnesota already has a no-texting behind the wheel law, and the new measure adds to that.

The bill allows hands-free calling and use of blue-tooth connections, such as stand-alone and in-dash speakerphones. Video calling, live streaming, gaming and reading messages is will be banned under all circumstances in the new law.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.