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Hands-free is not Distraction-free

August 1, 2019 is the date when the new Hands-free Law goes live.

That is great news.

But I would personally like to add an informal footnote alert. Let us not assume that just because one uses a hands-free/Bluetooth enabled phone, one does not have to worry about distracted driving.

Let us be clear. Hands-free is not Distraction-free.

It is true that the new law addresses one of the major sources of distracted driving, i.e. using a handheld phone while driving. But it will not take care of other unsafe tasks drivers undertake. A driver is still expected to manage potential distractions like in-car screens, eating, grooming, tending babies in the back seat, holding pets, spirited discussions with passengers or reading a book.

This law is sure to result in better enforcement and will make it easier for the traffic police to catch violators convincingly. Hopefully, it will significantly dent driver behaviors like video calling, video live-streaming, Snapchatting, gaming, looking at video or photos stored on the phone, using non-navigation apps, reading texts and scrolling or typing on the phone.

To clarify the law, such activities may not take place while stopped at a traffic light, stop sign, or while stopped on a shoulder.

Simply stated, it will be against the law for a driver to remove the phone and hold it in their hand while they were in any part of traffic.

Minnesota Department of Safety (https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/hands-free) suggests following options to help comply with the new law.

  1. It is best is to not use the phone while driving at all. Instead place it in the glove compartment or trunk or backseat.
  2. If you own a smart phone turn on the Do-not-Disturb option available in most new cell phones.
  3. Use a single earphone that has the microphone, and you are hands-free. Do not forget that using earphones in both ears at the same time is illegal in Minnesota.
  4. On Bluetooth enabled cars, the driver may pair the phone to the communication system in the car.
  5. Buy an auxiliary cable and connect your phone’s earphone jack to your car’s AUX jack. This allows the driver to operate the phone by voice or single touch and listen through the car’s audio system. Auxiliary cables are available for less than $5.
  6. In older cars not equipped with an AUX jack, inexpensive adapters are available in the market.
  7. A variety phone harnesses also hold the phone on the dashboard.

The information presented in this column comes to you by courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that runs a very user-friendly website. Check it out at (https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/hands-free).

Also, for additional information, please write to me at vijay@shreyadixit.org. I will wait to hear from you.