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Hands-free phone bill will have to wait another year

Talking on a cellphone while driving is dangerous – and potentially deadly. In recent years, the number of drivers who use smartphones behind the wheel has steadily risen, with 1 out of every 4 crashes attributable to distracted driving. It’s a public safety issue of epidemic proportions.

For proponents of a bill that would make it illegal in Minnesota to talk on a handheld phone while driving, this year’s legislative session was looking hopeful. The bill was set to move forward with widespread bipartisan support. The governor promised he would sign it into law once it hit his desk. And numerous organizations across the state – including the Minnesota State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies – backed the bill.

Yet, for apparently no articulated reason, the bill didn’t make it to a vote this year.

The positive impact of hands-free phone legislation

The bill would have prohibited talking on a handheld cellphone while driving. However, it would allow using Bluetooth or similar hands-free technology. It would also allow drivers to use GPS apps on a mounted phone.

A Star Tribune poll found that 79 percent of respondents supported the legislation. Sixteen other states have enacted similar laws. On average, fatal crashes in 15 of those states have dropped by 16 percent within two years. In Minnesota, that would amount to 53 lives per year – 53 lives lost because the bill didn’t make it to a vote.

Another bill that likewise didn’t survive this session would have made it a felony for drivers to use cellphones behind the wheel when they’ve caused serious injury or death. The legislature did increase fines for distracted driving. But many lawmakers and public safety officials doubt it will enough to stem the rising tide of cellphone-related traffic deaths.

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