Press Publications sat down with the Centennial Lakes Police Department (CLPD) and Lino Lakes Public Safety Department (LLPSD) to see what motorists need to know about the new hands-free legislation.
“I believe law enforcement in general, and our department in particular, believes this is a good law and it’s going to save lives,” said CLPD Lt. Russell Blanck, “and frankly, that is the goal. Let’s get back to basics, pay attention to what we are doing behind the wheel and minimize the opportunity for tragedies.
“The simple takeaway from the new law is that drivers are allowed to use their cell phones to make calls, texts, listen to music or podcasts, and get directions, but only by voice commands or single-touch activation without holding the phone. The key point is you may not hold the phone in your hand.”
Motorists are no longer allowed to prop a phone in between their ear and shoulder. Blanck explained there are a couple of exceptions written into the law, which include: It is okay for women to tuck a cell phone into a hijab as long as it stays securely in place and does not block vision in any way. There is also an exception for motorists to hold their phone to obtain emergency assistance or “if there is an immediate threat to life and safety,” Blanck explained.
“One major takeaway from this that people need to understand is that distracted driving is distracted driving,” Blanck said. “If you have a new vehicle with all of the bells and whistles and you can utilize your phone in a way intended by the law, but you are so consumed with trying to do something on the screen of your car that you are not paying attention, that is still distracted driving and that’s still very dangerous.”
He added, “If you are distracted, you can still get pulled over, especially if your driving conduct demonstrates that you are distracted. Keep your eyes on the road.”
Blanck described the new law as “common sense.” When compared to the “no texting while driving” law, the new legislation is more clear about when an officer can pull someone over. “If you have your phone in your hand and you don’t meet those couple of exceptions, you can expect that it may constitute a reasonable suspicion for an officer to pull you over. At that point there is potential for enforcement action of various types, from a warning to a citation,” he said.
LLPSD Traffic Safety Officer Tou Vang explained, “The new hands-free law says that you can no longer hold your cell phone while you drive, plus you can’t text and drive or go through your cell phone in traffic. The law does allow you to answer your phone if it is mounted, with single touch activation.”
The most common confusion about the law is many people assume it is okay to use their phone if they are stopped at a traffic light or stop sign, Vang said. “It applies as long as you are in traffic, meaning you could be driving down the road on the freeway or at a traffic light or stop sign. When I do traffic enforcement, a lot of times when I ask why they were texting, they will say, ‘Because I was stopped at the stop light.’”
Vang wants people to remember that cops are not out to get you. “It doesn’t make a difference at all to us if we need to get more (traffic stops) this week or more next week. We are there for the big picture, making sure that you get to your destination, from point A to point B, without having to worry about either yourself or another driver being distracted and causing an accident that can seriously hurt someone.”