The month of April 2019 marks our 100th Sheriff's Corner article that we've published monthly starting in January 2011. We would like to thank our readers for reading the article and submitting questions or topics that they would like covered here. We would also like to thank our publishers for including and sharing this information with their readers and in their publications, websites, newsletters etc. We are always looking for new topics to cover and would like to hear your suggestions.

During April, the Cass County Sheriff's Office and other partner agencies around the state concentrate on distracted driving and subsequent laws such as those pertaining to texting and driving, etc. April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is mobilizing law enforcement officers nationwide to look out for drivers texting or using their phone behind the wheel. The "U Drive. U Text. U Pay" high-visibility enforcement campaign is now in its fifth year. In 2016, new NHTSA data shows that at least 3,450 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, including those who were texting and driving. Cass County and our police department partner agencies are stepping up enforcement this month for distracted driving through our Toward Zero Death (TZD) state funded extra enforcement campaigns.

To prevent tragedies due to distracted driving, motorists are urged to:

• Turn off electronic devices and put them out of reach before starting to drive.

• Be good role models for young drivers and set a good example. Talk with your teens about responsible driving.

• Speak up when you are a passenger and your driver uses an electronic device while driving. Offer to make the call for the driver, so his or her full attention stays on the driving task.

• Always wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the best defense against unsafe drivers.

Hands Free Cellphone Legislation

Minnesota joined 17 states and the District of Columbia this month in requiring drivers to utilize their cellphones in hands-free mode while their vehicle is moving, effective Aug. 1, 2019. In the coming months, you will see a lot of information about the law and common questions asked and how this affects you as a driver.

It is already illegal in Minnesota for drivers to send text messages and emails while driving, including working on their phone and browsing the internet, but phone calls are currently allowed if the driver wasn't considered distracted. Under the new law, drivers can send messages or place calls while driving only if their device is in hands-free or voice-activated mode. The law makes an exception for emergency calls.

The new law doesn't allow manually punching in a phone number or an address into a navigation GPS app or finding a contact or text messages. You may not hold your phone in your hand. Hands-free technology, such as Bluetooth, headsets, earpieces or built in vehicle technology to connect your phone to the vehicle audio system allows a driver to do these things without actually holding their phone.

This law will make roads safer, as distracted driving has increased traffic fatalities state and country wide. This law will help law enforcement keep highways safe as drivers aren't allowed to have a phone in their hand, it will be easier to see violations and take effective action.

The penalty for violating the law is a petty misdemeanor, carrying a $50 fine for the first violation and a $275 fine for subsequent violations.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: By email at; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at Cass County Sheriff's Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.