ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) — It’s been a little more than two months since Minnesota’s hands-free bill went into effect, which means drivers must keep their cell phones out of their hands.
So what exactly has been happening on the roadways since then? After two months, the numbers are pretty clear, Minnesota drivers still have a problem driving hands free.
Governor Tim Walz signed the Hands-Free bill on April 12th, since then state and law enforcement officials have been working to educate the public on how to follow it.
“That’s been our deal all along is to do as much education as we can,” said Olmsted County Sheriff, Kevin Torgerson.
Since the new law going into affect August 1st, the number of citations statewide is an issue.
“We were hoping that we’d have a lot lower number actually of citations. Ideally we’d like to see zero citations every month,” said Minnesota State Patrol Sergeant, Troy Christianson.
In the month of August there were 2,317 citations issued across Minnesota. That number jumped to 2,729 in September.
“It’s hard to compare month-to-month, there’s a lot of variables, but that’s kind of a consistent pattern already. That is a pretty significant number of citations that we are issuing, so it is a problem, so we need to keep educating people of the dangers of distracted driving,” explained Christianson.
While he says it’s hard to compare month-to-month, Torgerson says his squad has noticed an almost night and day difference between the first month and now.
“Our first impression was: people made a lot of changes. We just talked about it last week or so, I don’t have a number of how many tickets they’ve written, but we’ve started to see more people back to their old habits,” continued Torgerson.
Drivers are allowed and encouraged to have their phone mounted, while using Bluetooth or the speaker phone function to communicate, but once that phone is in your hands, officers will make the stop.
“Once people realize that they will get caught with the phone in their hand and will be issued a citation, I believe our numbers will go down for citations and then also I believe our crash numbers will go down,” said Christianson.
The goal is for lower numbers in tickets, but Torgerson says it’s going to be a process, a lot like seat belt enforcement several years ago.
“It’s taken years to get people to where we’re now, for the most part, in the high 90’s for people that use their seat belts. So it could take 10 years, 15 years before we get that 90%, 95%, 98% compliance on that,” explained Torgerson.
While law enforcement officials will continue to educate, tickets are still being handed out to unsafe drivers.
Christianson says a first offense violation is $140 and $350 for a second.