Emotional testimony helps hands-free driving bill clear its first hurdle

The bill now heads to the House Ways and Means committee.

Laura Oakes
January 22, 2019 - 4:44 pm

ID 14684628 © Joe Ferrer | Dreamstime.com

The so-called "hands-free" bill clears its first legislative committee of the new session.

The bill would require drivers to use a hands-free device while talking on the phone. Several family members of loved ones killed by distracted drivers testified before the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, including Danielle Wishard-Tudor, who lost her brother.

"My brother died in his own lane, being a responsible driver looking in front of him. He braked. He veered to the right. He couldn't get away from someone coming into him, because they crossed all the way over because they were so distracted," Wishard-Tudor tearfully told the committee. 

"All of the European Union but five countries have banned phones that are hand-held. Also, almost all of Canada — ten provinces, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, you could go on and on. There's like 40 countries that are doing this already. We are so far behind," she said.

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Some lawmakers had questions about what is and is not allowed while behind the wheel.  Republican Representative Jon Koznick asked about listening to podcasts and whether or not he'd be able to take his child's daily call.

"I have a 10-year old daughter. When they get home from school, they call me to let me know they're home and got off the bus safely. They don't have cell phones but they do have iPads, and they choose to use the Face Time application. So would a mom or dad be able to take their kid's call?" asked Koznick.

Minnesota Safety Council President Paul Aasen told the panel listening to a podcast is permitted, but other, more interactive uses are not.

"What it does prohibit is live-streaming, for example. So it would not allow me to take a video of myself driving my car and sending it out to my friends on Facebook or some other venue. An interesting question on the venue of Face Time. That can run on audio only, so it would be incumbent upon the driver of that vehicle to take the audio side of that call and not engage in a video chat," explained Aasen.

The bill now heads to the House Ways and Means committee. It has bi-partisan support and leaders from both parties predict it will pass this year.

Right now, it is illegal for drivers to read, compose, or send text messages and emails, or access the Internet using a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion. The "No Texting While Driving" law also applies when stopped in traffic or at a traffic light, according to the Department of Public Safety.  

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