Distracted Driving Law to Change in August 2019

Minnesota’s distracted driving law – a.k.a. texting and driving – will change come August 2019. Starting then, the law will be much more restrictive, essentially demanding that any use of a cell phone by a driver be hands-free. For the current state of the law, read this blog item.

Minn. Stat. 169.475 is the law at issue – entitled, Use of Wireless Communications Device. Succinctly, a driver will only be able to use a cell phone if it’s in voice-activated or hands-free mode. Understanding what ‘voice-activated’ and ‘hands-free mode’ is critical to knowing what you can and cannot do on the roadways come August.

The law defines these two terms to mean “an attachment, accessory, wirelessly paired or tethered capability, application, wireless connection, or build-in feature of a wireless communications device or a motor vehicle that allows the person to use verbal or single touch commands to (1) activated or deactivate the device, and (2) activate or deactivate a function or software application of the device.” It further states that these terms do not allow a person to type or scroll on their cell phone.

To better understand this, let’s go through some examples:

Smart Cars – Once your phone is paired with your vehicle through the bluetooth technology, you can use your cell phone with a touch of the button (usually on a steering wheel) or via voice-activation. Either way, the driver can use the cell phone to place a call, listen to podcasts, listen to music, or even to compose texts to send.

Bluetooth Headpiece – Maybe your car isn’t a newer model that can pair with you phone. In that case, some bluetooth headsets allow a person to place a call and talk on the phone via a push-button or voice activation commands. This would be permissible.

Holding the phone up to your ear – this is no longer permissible. Strange to think, but this is the effect of the new law. You cannot dial a number, scroll through your contacts, or otherwise place a call on your cell phone and hold it up to your ear while driving.

Answering a Call – You can answer a call by pushing a button/swiping your phone. But, that’s it. Everything else must be hands-free.

GPS-Mode – This is still permissible, so long as the destination is entered before you start your trip. Once you are on the road – even if just stopped a stop light – you cannot grab the phone to check on your directions. So, either make sure the voice-guided turns is loud enough or that the map display is in a location that can be seen without having to hold or move the phone (i.e. how an uber driver displays his/her phone on their dash).

Emergency – As before, the new law will not apply in the case of an emergency.

The goal behind the new distracted driving law is easy to understand as the dangers of cell phone use behind the wheel are leading to deadly accidents. With the advancements of technology, the initial burden associated with this new law should pass. If you have questions about this new law or get charged with texting and driving, contact our firm.


NOTE: the law added some minor changes to the statutory framework in 2023. Read this blog post to see the updated statutory language.