MN distracted driving law gaining traction

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We all have been behind the person playing ping pong between the lines of the lane they are in, occasionally crossing over the lines they are suppose to stay between. There was a time when seeing this might have elicited the comment, “Must have had a few too many.”

Now the common phrase is, “Get off your phone!”

With handheld technology allowing us to stay ever-connected, and to search for anything by asking Google, Siri, or Cortona, it has made it’s way from our homes to our cars still attached to our hands. With life moving ever faster, and time spent behind the wheel ever-increasing, we have all started to use this convenient technology to get things done while behind the wheel.

It is safe to say that most people have searched for directions, or replied to a text while behind the wheel. And most people wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is illegal. What might surprise most people though is that even if you are stopped at a red light, it is still illegal. This can all be found under Texting and web access statute — M.S. 169.475.  New drivers, or friends and family under 18, should be aware it is illegal for them to be using a cellphone, even if in hands free mode while behind the wheel of a vehicle, unless they are calling in an emergency. This is per Permit and Provisional License statues–MS 171.05 and MS 171.055 Subd. 2(a).

The current law would permit an officer to ticket anyone found to be doing the above with careless or reckless driving. This is generally a simple $150 fine that remains the same regardless of how many times you are ticketed for distracted driving.

People might ask, “How big of a problem is is really?”

According to the group Minnesotans for Safe Driving(MSD), distracted driving accounts for 20% of crashes a year. This results in 70 deaths, and over 350 injuries, in Minnesota alone. These numbers are considered low, however, as it is very difficult to know for certain when distracted driving is the cause of a crash.

But it has become such a problem that there is currently a bill working its way through the Public Safety Committee that, if put into law, would ban the use of amy cellphone that is not in a hands-free model while a driver is behind the wheel. The MN State Patrol is a large supporter of this, due to the 18% rise in distracted driving related deaths from 2014 to 2015. This bill would make enforcement easier: if you’re pulled over and have a phone in your hands, you’re automatically guilty of distracted driving.

It has also been pointed out that having to buy any fancy hands-free kit wouldn’t be necessary, as if you put a single ear bud in and have the phone in a center console you would be in a “hands free” mode simply with the phone you already have.

Voilà.

But this is about more than just legislation. Minnesota families have been affected; hurt or killed as a result of distracted driving. One tragic example, that of Andrea Boeve, was reported in an article by the Star Tribune (found HERE).

33-year old Andrea Boeve was out for a bike ride, pulling her two daughters behind her in a bike stroller, when she was struck and killed by Christopher Weber. He was driving down the road behind them while looking down at his phone to hit the next number to advance through his bank’s phone menu. He didn’t realize anything had happened until he felt a bump and saw bike wheels in his rear view mirror. He stopped and attempted CPR but was unable to save Andrea. He was charged with criminal vehicular homicide.

What most people fail to realize is that at highway speeds a car travels the length of a football field in 5 seconds. 5 seconds is the normal amount of time it takes to send a text message. A lot can change in a hundred feet on a highway; someone changing a tire, a car changing lanes without a blinker, emergency vehicle on the side of the road, etc.

This current bill, if enacted, may not fully solve distracted driving due to cell phone usage behind the wheel. But it’s a step in the right direction. Families that have felt the loss of a loved one hope that one day penalties for distracted driving equal that of drinking and driving, or driving under the influence. At the very least, the law would raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving to hopefully prevent some tragic events in the future.