Effective August 1, 2019 the new hands-free cell phone law in Minnesota prohibits using a cell phone while driving unless the phone can be operated in a near completely hands-free manner. While texting while driving was already outlawed, the new law will prohibit talking on a phone unless the phone can be operated by a single-touch command (e.g. pressing the home button for Siri).
Can I use a cell phone if I’m stopped at a traffic light or in standstill traffic?
No: you can't use a cell phone in Minnesota even if you're stopped. The law applies to vehicles in motion, or “part of traffic.” Under the new law a vehicle is not in motion or part of traffic only if:
- the vehicle is lawfully stopped,
- is in a location that is not designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, AND
- is not obstructing traffic.
So being stuck in traffic is not an exception to Minnesota's hands-free cell phone law. In fact, that’s when you’re most likely to get ticked for this offense.
Can I use the GPS app on my phone while driving?
The new law permits use of a navigation app. However, the single-touch command rule still applies — you can’t type or manipulate a map while driving. And the law specifically prohibits holding a phone. This means that if you’re going to use a navigation app while driving you’ll need to have the directions preprogrammed prior to driving.
Are there any exceptions to Minnesota's hands-free cell phone law?
Yes. The new cell phone law provides a general emergency exception. While behind the wheel you may use your hands to operate your phone to make a phone call to report an accident, prevent a crime, or to request emergency medical assistance.
What are the consequences for violating the hands-free law?
The new law applies as a petty misdemeanor offense. Petty misdemeanors are not “crimes” under Minnesota law, they can only be punished by a fine. Violating the new hands-free cell phone law is a $50 fine. A second or subsequent offense will result in a $275 fine. The offenses will be recorded on your driver record and it is likely that your insurance company will raise your premiums as a result of the record.
What should I do if I’m stopped by police for using my phone while driving?
Beyond providing your driver's license and proof of insurance, you have no obligation to talk to the police if they pull you over for using your phone while driving. That’s the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. You also don’t have to unlock your phone or otherwise consent to the officer’s request to review or search your phone. That’s the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
But you should be respectful and courteous to the officer without compromising your rights. The officer may have the authority to seize your phone as evidence of a crime. And, while this would be a rare occurrence, a rude or aggressive attitude with the officer may just encourage him or her to seize your phone or cite you with a harsher penalty than otherwise would be justified.
The Balmer Law Office represents people accused of all sorts of crimes throughout the state of Minnesota. If you or a loved one has been charged or ticket with a criminal offense, contact the Balmer Law Office for a free, confidential case evaluation.