Hands-free bill one step closer

By: 
Chuck Kajer, The New Prague Times

On Monday, the Minnesota House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that will make it illegal for drivers to use a hand-held device while making phone calls or sending messages. Instead, they will be required to use a hands-free device to communicate.

Among those at the state capital Monday holding signs and photos of loved ones killed in distracted driving crashes were members of the Ilg and Tikalsky families of New Prague. Both families have been involved in the effort to pass such a bill for the past few years. Until Monday, they had usually returned from St. Paul disappointed, but determined to make a difference.

The battle isn’t over. The bill still has to pass the Minnesota Senate, and most likely, differences between the two bills would have to be worked out and passed by both houses before going to Gov. Tim Walz, who has said he supports such legislation.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety says that cell phones or electronic devices were a cause of one in five serious injuries or deaths caused by distracted driving in 2016 and 2017. Minnesota would join 16 other states and the District of Columbia in passing bills restricting use of hand-held communications devices. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations, most of those states saw drops in fatalities as a result of those restrictions.

Of course, even if a bill is passed and signed by the legislature, that won’t automatically make driving safer. Ultimately, it’s going to be the drivers who are going to have to change their behavior. You don’t have to answer every call that you receive while driving, you don’t have to read your text message, check your email or update your Facebook page while driving. Those things can wait. Even if no bill is passed this session, drivers can make a difference by being smart when behind the wheel and leaving their hands off their phones.

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