Guide to Minnesota’s Distracted Driving Laws & Car Accident Liability
Learn how Minnesota’s hands-free law impacts car crash liability in a distracted driving accident
Distracted driving kills 9 people every day in the United States. Find out how Minnesota is trying to combat the problem of distracted driving.
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The term “distracted driving” refers to any non-driving activity that diverts your attention from driving. Distracted driving activities tend to fall into 1 of 3 categories:
- Cognitive distractions take your mind off the road (for example, talking on the phone or to a passenger)
- Visual distractions take your eyes off the road (for example, watching videos or adjusting the radio)
- Manual distractions take your hands off the wheel (for example, grooming or eating)
Texting while driving is particularly dangerous (and gets most of the negative publicity) because it falls into all 3 categories of distraction.
In this article, we’ll take a look at distracted driving laws in Minnesota, including whether it’s illegal to text and drive in the North Star State and how a distracted driving accident might impact your car accident lawsuit.
How common is distracted driving?
Distracted driving is a growing problem across the United States.
According to a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), drivers were 57% more likely to use a smartphone while driving in 2019 than in 2014.
Need some more facts to convince you that distracted driving is a problem in the United States?
9 people are killed every day due to car crashes involving a distracted driver
21% of teen drivers involved in a car accident in 2020 were distracted by cell phones
Reaching for an object increases the chances of a car crash by 8 times
Unfortunately, Minnesota is not free of distracted drivers.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (MDPS), driver distraction plays a role in 9% of all crashes.
The top 4 contributing factors in Minnesota 2019 traffic fatalities were:
- Drunk driving: 89 deaths
- Speed: 75 deaths
- Unbuckled motorists: 73 deaths
- Distractions: 34 deaths
According to research
published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
, MRI brain scans done during driving simulations show that when a driver is concentrating on driving, the area of the brain that controls visual and spatial awareness lights up. When that same driver is texting, the area of the brain that controls language comprehension lights up and the area that controls visual and spatial awareness is reduced by 37%.
Can I text while driving in Minnesota?
As distracted driving has become more common, state legislatures across the country have begun crafting stricter distracted driving laws.
Minnesota’s distracted driving law can be found in Minnesota Statute 169.475. Here’s what you need to know:
- It is illegal for drivers of ALL AGES to compose, read, or send electronic messages (emails, text messages, etc.) or access the Internet on a wireless device when their vehicle is in motion or part of traffic. This includes being stopped in traffic or at a light.
- It is illegal for drivers of ALL AGES to engage in a cell phone call unless the phone call can be initiated without holding the phone (i.e., through a voice-activated or hands-free feature).
- It is illegal for drivers UNDER THE AGE OF 18 to use a cell phone in any manner (whether hand-held or hands-free) while driving.
Can I use a GPS while driving?
Minnesota’s distracted driving law does not apply to GPS systems so long as the GPS system is permanently affixed to the vehicle. In other words, if your GPS system is built into the dash, you can use it while driving. On the other hand, you cannot use Google Maps on your smartphone while driving.
Penalties for violating Minnesota’s distracted driving law
A person who violates Minnesota’s distracted driving law must pay a fine of $275. What’s more, the violator's insurance premiums will almost certainly increase.
Although a $275 fine may not seem like much of a punishment, keep in mind that drivers who violate the law are significantly more likely to be involved in a car crash.
Is a text worth your life, or the life of someone else?
How does distracted driving impact a personal injury claim in Minnesota?
Motor vehicle accident lawsuits are generally based on the legal concept of negligence.
In Minnesota, negligence is defined as “the failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to someone else on the road.”
If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant was texting (or engaging in some other distracting activity) when the accident occurred, they can generally establish negligence.
What’s more, if the defendant received a citation for violating Minnesota’s distracted driving law, the defendant will be presumed negligent and the defendant will have the burden of proving that they didn’t cause the accident. This is referred to as “negligence per se.”
Finally, if you injure or kill someone as a result of violating Minnesota’s distracted driving law, you face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.
Tips to avoid distracted driving
The MDPS has some tips for avoiding distracted driving:
- Cell phones. Turn off your cell phone and place it out of reach to avoid the urge to dial or answer. If a passenger is present, ask them to handle all calls and texts.
- Music and other controls. Pre-program favorite radio stations for easy access and arrange music (CDs, etc.) in an easy-to-access spot. Adjust mirrors and heat/AC before traveling, or ask a passenger to assist.
- Navigation. Designate a passenger to serve as a co-pilot to help with directions. If driving alone, map out destinations in advance, and pull over to study a map or GPS.
- Eating and drinking. Try to avoid foods and beverages, particularly messy foods and beverages, when behind the wheel.
- Children. Teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle; do not underestimate how distracting it can be to tend to children while driving.
- Passengers. Speak up to stop drivers who are engaging in distracted driving behavior.
Distracted driving frequently asked questions
Still have questions about distracted driving in Minnesota?
Let’s try to answer some of them.
Is there any circumstance in which I can hold my phone in my car?
Yes. You can use your cell phone as normal to obtain emergency assistance if you’re facing an immediate threat to life and safety.
Can I use a smartwatch while driving?
You can use your smartwatch as a conventional watch (to check the time), but smartwatches are considered “electronic communication devices” under the law. In other words, when not used to check the time, your smartwatch is the same as a cell phone.
Does Minnesota’s distracted driving law make the roads safer?
Yes. According to the MDPS, fatalities in 12 of 15 states with hands-free laws saw traffic fatalities decrease by 15% after the law was passed.
What should I do if I'm involved in a crash with a distracted driver?
There are a few things you should do (and one thing you should not do) following a crash with a distracted driver.
- Step 1. Obtain medical help for anyone who needs it (including yourself).
- Step 2. Call the police. The police will conduct an investigation and file a police report. You might be surprised at what an officer is able to find out about the at-fault driver’s actions in the moments before the crash.
- Step 3. Gather any evidence you can find. Distracted driving can be difficult to prove, so it’s important to obtain any evidence that might be available. If there are witnesses, take down their contact information. Similarly, make note of anything the at-fault driver or their passengers say that might implicate them.
- Step 4. Find an experienced personal injury attorney. Your lawyer will be able to conduct their own investigation into the accident. This may include requesting the other driver’s phone records to prove they were using their phone at the time of the accident, or deposing the passengers to find out what they observed the driver doing in the moments before the crash.
- Step 5. Avoid talking about the accident on social media. One of the first things a defense attorney will do is review all of your social media accounts for information that may hurt your case. The wisest course of action is to avoid posting about the accident altogether.
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