With the enactment of the new “hands-free” cell phone law on Aug. 1, Minnesota joins 19 other states in an effort to prevent deadly distracted driving crashes by banning the use of hand held cell phones when operating a motor vehicle.

Although AAA supports the new law and efforts to prevent distracted driving crashes, research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist for up to 27 seconds after using voice commands to change music, dial a phone number or send a text. In 27 seconds, traveling at 25 miles per hour, a driver will travel the distance equal to the length of three football fields.

“Just because you can use hands-free technology, doesn’t mean it is safe to do so,” stated Mark Peterson, spokesperson for AAA-The Auto Club Group. “AAA research shows that drivers who use voice-based technology are still distracted. When using this technology, your hands are on the wheel and eyes on the road, but your mind may not be on the task of driving."

Smart watches are considered an electronic communication device under the hands-free law. That means the device has the same restrictions as a cell phone. Drivers can use a smart watch the same way they use a cell phone as long as it’s by one-touch or voice activation. Drivers can’t type, text or do the other things prohibited under the hands-free law. Drivers can use their phone to obtain emergency assistance or if there is an immediate threat to life and safety.

Parents should remember that under Minnesota’s Graduated Driver License program, teen drivers are not allowed to use cell phones, even with wireless technology.

The penalty for a first conviction of the Hands-free law is $50 plus court fees. Second and subsequent convictions are $275 plus court fees.

It’s estimated that more than 60,000 crashes were distracted driving-related from 2014-18, contributing to nearly one in five crashes in Minnesota.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. Follow her on Twitter @rooksuzy

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