Put the Phone Down! Distracted Driving Laws Get Tougher in the Midwest

July 10, 2019
Inside HR
HR Compliance
Read time: 3 mins

Many organizations have employees that need to travel on the road as part of their jobs, whether it’s meeting with clients, responding to a customer need for service, or attending business functions. While on the road, employees may be tempted to take a conference call, text a quick message, or open an app for navigation.

Studies have shown that distracted driving has an exponentially greater risk of causing accidents. Most states have enacted distracted driving laws over the past 10 years to help with this issue. In Illinois and Minnesota, the laws just got tougher.

Illinois. On July 1, 2019, Illinois officially became a “hands-free” state, meaning that drivers can be ticketed for texting, talking, or even holding a phone while driving. This isn’t completely new. Illinois banned texting while driving and using hand-held cellphones back in 2009. However, now violators will see immediate fines, with three offenses in one year potentially getting the driver’s license pulled. Bluetooth or hands-free mode are acceptable, except in a school or construction zone.

The only time Illinois drivers can use a hand-held cellphone is:

  • To report an emergency situation.
  • While parked on the shoulder of a roadway.
  • While stopped due to normal traffic being obstructed and the vehicle is in neutral or park.

Minnesota. On August 1, 2019, a new hands-free bill becomes law in Minnesota. The new law prohibits drivers from holding a phone in their hand to make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts, video-call, scroll or type, look at videos or Snapchat, and get directions. Voice commands or single-touch activation without holding a phone are acceptable.

GPS and other navigation systems are exempt from the hands-free law. Hand-held phone use is allowed only to get emergency assistance, if there is an immediate threat to life and safety, or when in an authorized emergency vehicle performing official duties.

Further information, along with helpful fact sheets, are available here.

So, where do Wisconsin and Iowa stand? Both ban texting while driving, however drivers may still use their phones to talk while driving and as a GPS navigation system.

Wisconsin. Wisconsin specifically prohibits drivers from composing and sending texts or emails, unless using a voice-operated/hands-free device. The law does not apply to operators of authorized emergency vehicles or with the use of a global positioning device.

Iowa. Iowa’s distracted driving law prohibits drivers from texting while driving or using any other portable electronic device, unless the motor vehicle is at a complete stop and off the traveled portion of the roadway. 

Employers should be aware of any state laws that prohibit these types of activities and develop a written and consistently enforced policy addressing driving on company business. MRA has a sample policy and acknowledgement that can be modified to meet the needs of your organization.

For states that don’t have laws prohibiting texting or using hand-held devices while driving, employers may decide it is the right thing to do to encourage safe driving habits.