Many people, especially in the Fargo-Moorhead area, drive between Minnesota and North Dakota daily. Due to new laws likely to be enacted in Minnesota, it is important to be aware of the dangers and possible penalties associated with driving distracted.
The North Dakota Supreme Court recently decided a case relating to distracted driving and whether an individual tapping their cell phone was an adequate basis to stop a vehicle. State v. Morsette, 2019 ND 84. The driver in Morsette tapped his phone approximately ten times while an officer watched. The officer initiated a traffic stop based on these observations. The driver said he was changing the music on his cell phone. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the officer did not have reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop the driver because North Dakota law permits certain cell phone activity while driving. The statute specifically prohibits composing, reading, or sending an electronic message while driving. The officer was unable to articulate how the observed conduct of tapping the cell phone ten times while driving constituted a violation of North Dakota’s distracted driving statute.
In coming to its conclusion that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the driver, the North Dakota Supreme Court noted what many see as deficiencies in North Dakota’s distracted driving laws. North Dakota law only specifically prohibits conduct relating to electronic messages but does not prohibit typing a phone number to make a call, inputting information into a GPS system, or using music players. Because of the language of the statute and the officer’s inability to reasonably connect ten taps of a cell phone to conduct prohibited by statute, the North Dakota Supreme Court made clear that the prohibitions on distracted driving are limited within the state.
Meanwhile, across the border, Minnesota will enact a new law prohibiting essentially any handling of cell phones while driving. The new law takes effect in Minnesota on August 1, 2019. The new Minnesota law requires hands-free methods only to use a cell phone while driving. This means no more searching for an address or dialing a number while driving in Minnesota. However, drivers can still use voice-activated and other hands-free methods to make calls or otherwise use phones while driving. As law enforcement has noted, this will make the standard simpler for them to stop individuals who are using cell phones while driving because, unlike North Dakota, police could now essentially stop any individual with a cell phone in hand while driving. This may raise concern for individuals who frequently use their phones while driving. It is important to remain aware of changes in the law to avoid criminal consequences. It is even more important to not drive distracted because driving distracted is the cause of many dangerous motor vehicle accidents.
Contact O’Keeffe, O’Brien, Lyson & Foss
The best way to prevent motor vehicle accidents or criminal penalties due to distracted driving is to focus only on driving. There are many ways to drive distracted, which are not limited only to cell phone use. Distracted driving can cause many legal problems, leaving an individual in need of a personal injury or criminal defense attorney. In either case, legal advice can help mitigate the problems caused by distracted driving. Contact O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss in Fargo, North Dakota or call 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002 to discuss your case.