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BOY, times sure have changed — Long gone are the days of pulling out that full sized folding map to find out where we are going.

Imagine doing that behind the wheel – unfold it, find your location, map it out and then “attempt” to fold it back up like it was. Why is that any different than that powerful little device we call our cell phone? You have phone calls, texting, web browsing, GPS, playing games, watching movies, FaceTiming, YOU can even learn the ancient art of origami (to fold those old maps back up), and all in the palm of your hand. Our vehicles have now become a moving entertainment distraction machine. We wouldn’t DREAM about using that paper accordion with road names on it while we are maneuvering around other drivers on the road … why would we attempt it with our cell phone?

Well, things are about to change. I am sure by now you have heard many times about the new “Hands-free” bill that will become law on August 1, 2019 — but do you know what you can and what you can’t do?

What you can’t do (along with folding your Rand McNally maps):

  • It will be illegal to hold your phone in your hand when operating a vehicle (this includes stopped at a stop light).
  • A driver may not use their phone (even if it’s mounted in your car) for video calling, live-streaming, snapchat, gaming, looking at videos or photos, using other (non-navigation) apps, reading texts and scrolling or typing on the phone (including typing in an address into GPS).
  • Smart watches are under the same restrictions and must only be used for checking the time while driving.

So, what CAN you do?

  • Hand-held phone use is allowed if there is an “immediate threat to life and safety” or when in an authorized emergency vehicle while performing official duties.
  • Make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts and get directions, but only by voice commands or single-touch activation without holding the phone.
  • If you wear a Hijab or other type of head scarf or wrap with your cell phone tucked into it securely while not blocking your vision you are not breaking the law.

The new law does not change anything for teens under 18 with a driver’s permit or provisional driver’s license. They cannot make or answer calls while driving (hand-held or hands-free). They can use their phone in hands-free mode in the following situations:

  • Using their phone as a GPS device, but only in hands-free or voice-activated mode. They must set their destination before driving. They can’t hold their phone at any time.
  • Listening to music or podcasts in hands-free or voice-activated mode is OK, but hand-held scrolling through playlists or channels is not allowed under the law.
  • Calling 911 if there’s an immediate threat to life and safety with their phone in either hand-held or hands-free mode.

What are the penalties?

The penalty if caught is $50 (plus court fees) for the first time and $275 (plus court fees) for subsequent violations – money you could have spent to take an origami class.

I’ve listed below some recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety on how to go hands-free (listed from cheapest to most expensive)

  1. Don’t use your phone when you drive. Put your phone in the glove compartment or trunk or backseat or turn on a do-not-disturb app and enjoy the drive. It’s free, and you will be surprised at how many new sights you will see on your drive. A number of large, successful companies have adopted no-phone-use policies for their employees while driving on company time, and after getting used to it, employees report being happier and at least as productive as when they used their phones.
  2. Use a single earphone that has the microphone, and you are hands-free. Remember, using earphones in both ears at the same time is illegal in Minnesota.
  3. Pair your phone to your current car or truck. If your existing vehicle and phone can talk to each other, pair up and go hands-free.
  4. Buy an auxiliary cable and connect your phone’s earphone jack to your car’s AUX jack. You can operate your phone by voice or single touch and listen through your car’s audio system. Auxiliary cables can be purchased for less than $5.
  5. If your car is older and doesn’t have an AUX jack but has a cassette player, you can buy an adapter that fits into the cassette player and allows you to connect your phone through the earphone jack. The cassette adapters cost about $30.
  6. Buy a holder to clip your phone to the dash. You can use it in a voice-activated or single-touch mode. Clips can be simple and cheap or complicated. Make sure you get one that holds your phone securely. Prices range from less than $5 to $50.
  7. Buy a Bluetooth speaker or earphone to pair with your phone. There are many after-market choices for both, all of which let you go hands-free. Prices are generally in the $10 to $50 range.

It’s simple

Put your phone away where you won’t have the temptation. If you do need to use it, pull over into a safe, legal area before you make that call. The same goes for map folding — Make the roads safer for you and those around you. Drive Safely – it can wait!