Break the habit: Drive with a hands-free device

Oct. 3, 2019

Hands on a steering wheel and a phone in a dash mount

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two months, you know that Minnesota now has a hands-free cell phone law. But habits are hard to break, whether it’s stopping smoking, cutting down on screen time, or just going to bed earlier. And if your habit is talking on your phone while driving without a hands-free device, you’ll need to break it right away.

It may help to know that there’s a precedent for breaking such habits, though. For example, up until the 1980s, most people were in the habit of leaving their seat belt off in the car. Before Minnesota’s first seat belt law took effect in June 1986, only 20 percent of people riding in the front seat were buckled in. Fast forward to 2019, and that number is now at 93.4 percent. That has resulted in a much greater percentage of people who are likely to survive a crash.

Another bad driving habit is getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. In the 1960s, about 60 percent of all traffic deaths were alcohol-related. But with changes including legislative action, strengthened penalties, education, awareness and enforcement, that number has been cut almost in half. During the five-year period from 2014 through 2018, that number hovers around 32 percent.

During August – the first month in which the hands-free law was in effect – law enforcement from all over the state issued 2,317 citations to drivers of all sorts who were holding their phones in their hands. The drivers cited varied greatly in age – a 19-year-old man was caught holding his phone up for a FaceTime call, while a 72-year-old man was going 30 mph in the left lane of a 55 zone, distracted by the phone held up to his ear because his Bluetooth wasn’t working.

Hands-free law violations happened all over the state, urban or rural – from Minneapolis to the unincorporated community of Pengilly, population 270 – and violators consisted of both men and women. One woman was holding a phone up to her ear and didn’t see the State Patrol car behind her for five minutes. When cited, she admitted to the trooper that holding the phone in her hand to talk is a hard habit to break. Another woman, wearing a headset, told a trooper she never talks with the phone in her hand – but she was pulled over for scrolling through her recent calls to find a phone number.

The stories of hands-free law violations are as varied as the people being cited, but most of them have something in common: They were aware of the law, and they were breaking it anyway, and many were doing so out of habit. It is indeed a hard habit to break, but with education, awareness and enforcement, the new law will help ensure that hands-free cell phone use behind the wheel becomes as normal as buckling a seat belt or finding a sober ride.