On August 1, 2019, several new laws related to driving went into effect in Minnesota.  The new “Hands-Free Cell Phone Law” responds to the growing number of incidents, accidents, and even fatalities caused by distracted drivers using their cell phones as they drive.  According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), cell phones are the fastest-growing distraction to drivers.  The DPS reports that In the past five years, distracted driving contributed to nearly one in every five accidents, averaged 204 “life-changing” injuries per year, and caused 45 annual fatalities.    

Even after the law went into effect, many drivers apparently had not gotten the message.  During the month of August, 2019, the first full month the Hands-Free law was in effect, the State Patrol stopped 2,115 drivers for failing to comply with the law, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.  So what does the new law regulate?

You can still use your cell phone when you drive, but only under very specific conditions:  with voice commands or single-touch activation without holding the phone, you may still use a cell phone to make calls, text, listen to music, listen to podcasts, and get directions.

You CANNOT hold your cell phone in your hand to use it when you are driving.  You cannot use your phone to make video calls, watch videos, game, watch photos, read texts, scroll, type, or other actions while you are driving!  You can only use your phone with your hands to obtain emergency assistance, if there is an immediate threat to life and safety, or when performing official duties in an emergency vehicle.

You can use a GPS navigation device, and you can use an in-car screen.

If you are unsure, you should not use your phone if it is in your hands!

And even if you have the use of voice commands or single-touch activation, keep in mind that you may still be distracted when driving.

The fine on the first offense is $50 plus court fees.  The fine goes up for the second and subsequent offenses to $275 plus court fees.  While these are petty misdemeanors, they can still affect your insurance rates and your driving record.  And if you cause an accident, injure, or kill someone while holding your phone, you could face more serious charges.  Additionally, law enforcement officers can pull over your car solely based on your violating this law, without any other driving offenses.  There have been reports that police officers are also adding on another charge, which is signficant one - careless driving.  This is a misdemeanor and can have long-term effect on the cost of insurance for any Minnesota driver.  

The legislature addressed a differnt type of hands free issue in the last session.  There are different levels of sexual conduct or contact which is criminalized in Minnesota, the lowest level being Fifth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC), a gross misdemeanor offense.  Before August 2019, 5th Degree CSC prohibited non-consensual touching of someone’s intimate parts.  However, the term “intimate parts” did not include a person’s buttocks.  This was considered a “loophole” which might allow some types of groping to go uncharged.  As of August 1, the loophole has been closed, and non-consensual touching of a person’s buttocks is now included and criminalized as part of Fifth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct.  See Minn. Stat. 609.3451.  The touching must be intentional.  It seems likely that the issue of “intent” will be paramount in cases charged under this new provision.  A charge and a resulting conviction will cause many collateral consequences related to your public record, job prospects, immigration consequences, offender registration, and housing.  

If you have been charged with either of these offenses under the new laws, please contact Wilson Law Group to schedule a free initial consultation.