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The New Hands-free Law Needs a New Village

Vijay b. Dixit, Chairman
Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation

August 1, 2019 is the day when the new Hands-free Law goes into effect.

Getting the Hands-free legislation passed only paved the way for a distraction-free driving future. Now we must make it work. Laws succeed only if they get support from an intelligently designed execution plan by the government. This week’s launch of the public education campaign about the law by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is laudable. It will go a long way toward making the law work. However, we in the community, must be engaged in ensuring that the law gets good traction.

Community must take the lead by working at the grass roots to educate not only teens and older drivers but also loop in very-young kids who have not even started to drive. We must not ignore that third segment of future drivers. They have more years of driving ahead of them than the current drivers. This is what I call the new village.

To pursue that goal, the Shreya Foundation will have members of its high school-based Distraction-free Life Clubs (DfLC) mentor elementary school students about the broader meaning of distraction-free driving. The new law targets cell phone use, a major source of distracted driving. But it does not address other equally unsafe tasks drivers undertake. To name a few, we regularly see drivers manipulating in-car screens, eating, grooming, tending babies in the back seat, holding pets, spirited discussions with passengers or reading a book. It is true, these young kids are not yet ready to drive but they pay attention to what we drivers do in the cars. Also, they invariably spend a huge amount of time riding with parents and elders, getting dropped-off at school, sports, music activities. Sitting in the back seat, they are fully capable of becoming an effective tool for checking the less than desirable driving behaviors. Yes, they never mince words, and can reprimand without hesitation.

Let us call this group of 6-10 years old, Drivers-in-Making. There is a strong need to engage this segment of future drivers in their formative years, way before they will drive. The DfLC members will conduct workshops for the kids and learn leadership skills at the same time. Initially the plan will have DfLC members from Eden Prairie High School and Performing Institute of Minnesota Arts School (https://www.pimartshs.org) to take on the responsibility for designing a workshops to be offered in summer of 2019.

The DfLC members will produce artifacts and video clips, each with a moral.

These kids can lead the way to safety by respectfully speaking up, if they notice their elders at home or in the neighborhood driving distracted. 

The Shreya Foundation anticipates DfLC members will continue to build new stories around this theme with non-driving kids checking and correcting older drivers when they get distracted. It is fair to assume that such initiatives will play a dominant part in making the hands-free law a sustainable success.

More information about the law may be obtained from Minnesota Department of Safety (https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/hands-free).

For additional information on the Driver in Making Program, please write to me at vijay@shreyadixit.org. I will wait to hear from you.

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