MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota is one major step closer to banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. The Minnesota Senate passed a hands-free bill Monday afternoon.
That means Minnesota would join 16 other states with laws limiting drivers to hands-free use of their phones.
Hands-free bills have been proposed for 10 years at the Minnesota State Capitol, including last year when a hands-free bill went nowhere in the Minnesota Senate. But what a difference a year makes.
The Minnesota Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly, virtually guaranteeing some kind of distracted driving measure becoming Minnesota law.
Danielle Wishard-Tudor’s brother Jean-Claude was killed by a distracted driver in Minnetrista in 2017. She was overwhelmed by the Senate vote.
“Every time we come, every time we testify, we relive the moment that our loved ones were taken away because of one person’s behavior that could take less than 30 seconds,” Wishard-Tudor said. “I have never been happier for anything in all of my life, besides wishing I could have my brother back for his children’s sake.”
Vijay Dixit’s 19-year-old daughter Shreya was killed in 2007.
“It is not done yet, but it is an extremely, extremely good step in the right direction,” Dixit said.
The debate lasted more than three hours. Sen. Torrey Westrom from Elbow Lake said the bill doesn’t take into account rural concerns.
“There is no balance or reasonableness or difference between rural areas and heavily populated areas with lots of traffic,” Westrom argued.
But in the end, Republican Senate leaders from greater Minnesota muscled the bill through. Penalties for violating the proposed law would include fines similar to those of a traffic ticket.
“All I am asking for in this bill is put your phone down, put your eyes back on the road where they belong, and in the end I know we are going to save lives,” Sen. Scott Newman, the author of the Senate bill, said.
The House and Senate bills are slightly different. The Senate actually passed an amendment allowing a cellphone to be tucked into a hijab, the headscarf worn by many Muslim women.
The bills are now headed to a conference committee. Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign a hands-free measure into law.