Governor's View Column: New laws will help keep Minnesotans safe on the road
Whether driving up to the cabin, carpooling kids to camp, or towing your boat to the lake, Minnesotans spend much of the summer on the road. From these busy final weeks of summer to the dead of winter, we must do everything we can to ensure our families arrive where they’re going safely.
That is why I signed three bills into law this year that will help keep Minnesotans safe behind the wheel. They went into effect a week ago, on Aug. 1, and here’s what you need to know.
Clocking many miles driving my daughter to soccer games, I know firsthand how frustrating it is to get stuck behind a car going slowly in the left lane. Not only is it annoying, it poses a safety hazard by disrupting the flow of traffic. Minnesota has long had a requirement that slower-moving motorists use the right lane and allow others to pass when practicable. But to ensure this is being followed, this law has been modernized to make clear that slow drivers must move over to the right lane and could be subject to a fine if they create a traffic hazard. The law doesn’t give folks permission to speed but will help mitigate traffic hazards and road rage.
We all know summer in Minnesota is also known as “construction season” — and that is not just a saying. In fact, there are more than 220 active work zones scheduled throughout our state this season. These work zones present different traffic patterns, changing speeds, and even road obstacles. Over the past three years, 31 Minnesotans have died and more than 120 have been seriously injured in work zones. A new law now in effect allows police officers to issue a citation to drivers who violate instructions from work-zone flaggers based on a report from that worker. It will help reduce crashes in work zones, provide a safer workplace for construction workers, and ensure the people who build our roads and bridges get home safely to their families.
Finally, I am honored to have signed a law this year to help prevent distracted driving. One of the most emotional moments of my time as governor so far was the signing ceremony for this bill. Surrounded by the families of Minnesotans who have lost their lives due to distracted drivers, it was a time to acknowledge how they have turned personal tragedy into advocacy. Distracted driving, on average, plays a role in one in five crashes in Minnesota. Too many of these crashes have resulted in deaths. That is why we worked with these brave families to pass a law that prohibits drivers from holding a phone while driving. The law allows cell phone use, but only in hands-free mode or using one-touch activation. While these families know there is no way to get back stolen graduation ceremonies, birthday parties, and wedding days, this law will help ensure more Minnesotans make it home to their loved ones.
There’s not much better than the open road during the summer, whether driving up I-35 for a weekend on Lake Vermilion or down Minnesota Highway 60 to visit friends in Mankato. Kids laughing, windows down, and Tom Petty on the radio is the backdrop of some of my favorite memories. That’s the way it should be, and I am proud of these new laws to help keep Minnesotans safer on the road.
Stay safe out there, and enjoy these final days of summer. See you at the State Fair!
Tim Walz is governor of the state of Minnesota.