ST. PAUL - Minnesota's laws on distracted driving changed on Thursday, Aug. 1, making it illegal to hold a cellphone behind the wheel of a car.
And within the first two hours, law enforcement officers cited a driver for violating the so-called "hands-free" law, which took effect on Thursday at midnight. It was enacted in an effort to prevent texting and driving, which the Department of Public Safety said climbed 30% in Minnesota from 2017 to 2018.
Col. Matt Langer, chief of the State Patrol, said law enforcement officers don't keep real-time data about distracted driving offenses and citations, but the first hands-free law offense was reported around 2 a.m. on Thursday.
And on Twitter, the Eagan Police Department said it pulled over a driver who was texting about the law. She was cited for the offense.
"There's always people that find humor or a sense of, like, casualness when it comes to these issues, but I would challenge them to come talk to anybody around the podium here about any humor involved with 'I'm texting you on the day that hands-free becomes enacted,'" Langer said Thursday, surrounded by people holding up photos of family members killed in distracted-driving crashes.
Under the law, drivers who hold their phone behind the wheel or otherwise swipe, type, scroll or view content on their cellphones will be subject to tickets and fines. The first offense is a $50 ticket plus court fees, which could add up to around $130, and the second and later tickets are $275 plus court fees.
"Hands-free means hands-free," Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said. "That means Minnesotans have decided we will not tolerate the behavior of drivers who decide that interacting with a tablet or a phone or a game or whatever device in their hand is more important than the lives of their fellow Minnesotans."
At the Capitol, dozens of Minnesotans whose loved ones were killed in distracted-driving crashes held a somber press conference to mark "hands-free day." They spent years lobbying lawmakers to outlaw using a phone behind the wheel and after a hard-fought effort, they succeeded in April when lawmakers passed and Gov. Tim Walz signed into law the measure that prohibits using a phone outside hands-free mode while driving.
Greg Tikalsky urged Minnesota drivers to put their phones down while driving to comply with the law and to avoid joining the coalition of family members and friends who lost loved ones to distracted drivers. Tikalsky's father was killed by a distracted driver.
"Like you, we never thought this could happen to our family," Tikalsky said. "Be thankful you're not among us and hopeful you'll never be because of the passage of the hands-free law."
Still have questions about the new law? Visit HandsfreeMN.org for more information.