Distracted Driving Law Gains Traction in Minnesota

We’ve all been stuck at one point or another driving behind the person swerving in and out of lanes as though they’re playing ping pong in the driver’s seat. In the past, this might have elicited the comment, “Must have had one too many…”

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

Handheld technology keeps us ever-connected and allows us to search for anything by simply asking Google, Siri, or Cortana for help. And, with life moving ever faster, and with more of our time spent behind the wheel of a car, it has become increasingly common for people to use their phones to get things done while driving to/from work, picking up the kids, etc.

The current law

Many of us are guilty of searching for directions, or even replying to a text, while driving. And, most people wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is illegal. What might come as a surprise, however, is that it’s illegal even if you’re stopped at a red light; i.e. it’s still against the law to text even if your vehicle is not in motion. This can all be found under Texting and web access statute — M.S. 169.475.

New drivers, and friends and family under the age of 18, should also be aware that it is illegal to use a cellphone, even if it remains 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 permits an officer to ticket anyone found doing any of the above actions if pulled over for careless or reckless driving. This generally translates to a simple $150 fine that does not increase – no matter how many times an offender is ticketed for the offense.

So, is distracted driving a big deal?

According to the group Minnesotans for Safe Driving (MSD), distracted driving accounts for around 20% of automobile crashes every year, which results in 70 deaths, and over 350 injuries in Minnesota. But these numbers are considered low, and perhaps underrepresented in the study, as it is often difficult to know for certain whether distracted driving is the true cause of the crash.

It has, however, not gone unnoticed by local state government: A bill was recently approved by the House public safety committee which, if put into law, would ban the use of any cellphone that is not in a hands-free model while a driver is behind the wheel. The MN State Patrol is one of the bill’s large supporters, as distracted driving deaths have risen 18% between 2014 to 2015. The bill ultimately makes enforcement easier: If you get pulled over and you have a phone in your hands, you’re automatically guilty of distracted driving.

To supporters of the bill, it is about more than just legislation: Many Minnesota families have been hurt or killed in accidents as a result of distracted driving. One tragic example, that of Andrea Boeve, was reported in an article by the Star Tribune in 2014:

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 rearview mirror. He stopped and attempted CPR but was unable to save Andrea. He was charged with criminal vehicular homicide.

(Full article can be found here.)

At highway speeds, a car travels the length of a football field in approximately 5 seconds. 5 seconds is also an average amount of time it takes to send a text message. A lot can change in 100 feet on a highway: A car pulls over to change a tire, another car changes lanes without a blinker, an emergency vehicles stops on the side of the road to offer assistance, a deer appears as if from nowhere…

This bill, if enacted, may not fully solve the issue of distracted driving due to cell phone usage behind the wheel. The hope, however, is that it might at least curb the rising amount of automobile accidents that occur as a result of distracted driving each year.

If you, or someone you know, has been injured by a distracted driver,  get in touch with a personal injury attorney: A qualified attorney can help injured victims understand what to do next, and what courses of action are available to them, as well as whether they’ll be able to secure compensation to help cover the medical, vehicular, and other costs that come from getting in an accident.

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