Texting and Driving Ticket - Minnesota

In Minnesota, a texting and driving ticket is a petty misdemeanor offense, which means the total fine is less than $300 and it includes no jail. Still, the collateral consequences – such as increased insurance premiums – can have a lasting impact for drivers. And, with how the law is written, a person may have a defense to a texting and driving ticket.

Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 169.475, subd. 2(a), it is illegal for any driver to “operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device to compose, read, or send an electronic message, when the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic.”

Critical to this is how ‘electronic message’ is defined: a self-contained piece of digital communication that is designed or intended to be transmitted between physical devices. An electronic message includes, but is not limited to, e-mail, a text message, an instant message, a command or request to access a World Wide Web page, or other data that uses a commonly recognized electronic communications protocol. An electronic message does not include voice or other data transmitted as a result of making a phone call, or data transmitted automatically by a wireless communications device without direct initiation by a person. The “other data” in that definition may be referring to apps, but this has not been analyzed by Minnesota courts yet.

Essentially, you cannot use your phone while driving to text, e-mail, access the internet, or use any apps that use data (likely). These rules apply regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion or stopped at a traffic light – something few people realize and most of us violate.

There are a few exceptions in which the device may be used legally:

  1. Solely in a voice-activated or other hands-free mode;
  2. for making a cellular phone call;
  3. for obtaining emergency assistance to (i) report a traffic accident, medical emergency, or serious traffic hazard, or (ii) prevent a crime about to be committed;
  4. in the reasonable belief that a person’s life or safety is in immediate danger; or
  5. in an authorized emergency vehicle while in the performance of official duties.

Notably, it is unclear if voice-activated texting is permissible or if you can use the phone for directions on a road trip, if the phone is in a hands-free mode when doing so.

The laws tighten for drivers under the age of 18. No driver under the age of 18 may use a cell phone – for any reason – while driving a vehicle. It is an affirmative defense, though, if the teen used the phone for emergency purposes or to report a crime. Likewise, no school bus driver may use a cell phone while driving a school bus.

It is legal to use your cell phone and drive. It is the manner in which you use it that leads to being cited with a texting and driving ticket. But, the State may have challenges in proving you were using the phone illegally, especially if you, the driver, do not admit to improper usage. If you ever are stopped for texting and driving, do NOT answer how and why you were using the phone. All you are doing is providing evidence to be used against you. If you have not answered this question, then you need an experience traffic tickets attorney to help fight this case because it can be defended successfully.

The law changed in 2019. Read an important update to how this law changed here.