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More Than 5,000 Citations Given Since 'Hands-Free' Law Went Into Effect

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The numbers are in and the new hands-free driving law in Minnesota is already making roads safer. Officers have intercepted thousands of distracted drivers since the law kicked in just two months ago.

According to court records, more than 2,729 Minnesota drivers got tickets for hands-free violations in September. In August, more than 2,317 were cited. That's 5,046 in just two months.

After years of heartbreak, families of distracted driving victims have new reason to celebrate. For years, they stood side-by-side and begged lawmakers for change, reliving their worst days so others would live longer. And at last they feel there's progress.

"We are told by law enforcement we are seeing many more people who are using some type of a holder for those devices or they just don't see them interacting with those electronic devices at the same rate," Michael Hanson, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said.

At the state's annual Toward Zero Deaths, the crowd stopped to celebrate the hands free law and applaud the victims' families like Phil LaVallee's parents, Robert Brau's parents and Joe Tikalsky's son who addressed a room full of law enforcement officers at the Toward Zero Deaths conference in St. Cloud: "I look forward to the day when driving with a phone in your hand will carry the same stigma as driving with a beer in your hand."

They turned their grief into action and Chad Popp was part of the team. He was hit by a distracted driver head on near St. Cloud.

"My car, it just came all up on top of me and it ended up every limb was broken in multiple places and I ended up with 36 broken bones in my body that day," Popp said.

So he helped change one of the most landmark traffic laws in history, part of a pack of hurting families sparing others from pain.

"We are on the way to changing people's driving habits and I think we're gonna get there," Popp said.

Most of the states who have already passed distracted driving have seen a 15% decrease in fatal accidents. The hope in Minnesota is for there to eventually be zero deaths.

The Director of Public Safety says we won't fully know the impact of the law for two years, but he likens this legislation to the 0.08 alcohol limit law -- and the seatbelt law -- for its potential to save lives.

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