Most drivers have probably been there, even though most would rather not admit publicly that they've been there: You're behind the wheel of a vehicle that's new enough and possesses the technology that allows you to communicate with others via texting or voice phone call without actually holding your phone, and so you're doing just that...talking on your phone or texting someone, hands-free. You're communicating with someone, but you're still able to keep your hands on the steering wheel, and your eyes on the road.
But, make no mistake, you're distracted. And while you're talking on the phone or dictating a text via your digital assistant or having a text read back to you, it hits you, hard enough to make your mind almost do a rapid double-take: You've lost a couple of seconds, maybe even a few. Sure, your eyes were on the road and your hands were on the steering wheel while you were communicating with someone electronically, but your brain for a very brief time wasn't entirely processing the visual information provided by your eyes. You were kind of glazed over for a bit, is maybe the best way to put it. To the point that you'd coast through a red light at a busy intersection or leap over the curb and crash through a crowded playground? No, probably not. But you know the scene this paragraph is trying to describe, because you've been there.
Maybe that's the reason that, in the very first paragraph on the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's webpage detailing the state's new hands-free cell phone law that takes effect Aug. 1, are the words, "Remember, hands-free is not necessarily distraction-free."
An advocate for tougher legislation as it relates to distracted driving the other day said that Minnesota's new law passed by the legislature this past spring is a "good start." The clear question in response to such a description is to wonder what else can public safety officials and law enforcement do? Is it possible to have tougher legislation down the road that bans all electronic communication while driving? How in the world would you detect that and then enforce it? If a police officer sees a person driving alone but their lips are moving, is that person to be pulled over to see if they were chatting, hands-free, with someone via their phone and vehicle's communication system?
No, this is probably as far as the law can go in this realm. Do much more and, 1. You're going to have to add a bunch of police officers to the roads to keep up with even more enhanced legislation in this area, and, 2. With that not being financially possible, you're simply going to have a whole lot of drivers breaking the law but continually getting away with it.
An added benefit of this law being passed and the publicity it has garnered is the reminder to drivers under the age of 18 that the hands-free rules are already in place for them in Minnesota, and they're even slightly more strict that the legislation that kicks in on Aug. 1. They essentially cannot touch their phones while driving. Even if they're navigating via a maps app on their phone, they must set the destination before they embark on the drive.
Granted, older drivers are likely just as guilty as any generation of driving down the road with their head pointed down toward their phone's screen. But it's the youth, the young adults who have never known a trip in a vehicle, short or long, that doesn't involve staring at a small screen, that must be nudged forcefully into changing their ways.
This new law can only help.