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Distracted Driving

By Ravi Roelfs, YSB Diversion Staff

Welcome to Summer, hopefully everyone had a nice Winter and enjoyed all the snow we received through May 2019. As we move forward, YSB would like to discuss the topic of distracted driving while using a cell phone.

Did you know the first handheld cell phone was made by Motorola in 1973?  The phone allowed a user to talk for 35 minutes and it required 10 hours to charge.  The first text message was sent on December 3rd, 1992 sent as a SMS message saying, “Merry Christmas”.  Times have changed, as we fast-forward into the year 2019, using cell phones has pros and cons.  The average teen these days spends 53 hours a week on social media.  Hopefully your teen isn’t part of that statistic.

In Minnesota, over the last five years (2013-2017) distracted or inattentive driving was a contributing factor in one in five crashes, resulting in an average of 53 deaths and 216 serious injuries each year.

On April 12th, 2019, Minnesota’s Governor Tim Waltz signed a bill called “The Hands Free While Driving Law”.  It is important to note that Minnesota State statues already indicated that it was illegal for drivers to send text messages and emails while driving, however, a driver was still allowed to make a phone call.  The new law changes this.

Manually punching in a cell phone number or looking up something on an app is NOW ILLEGAL. This is a form of distracted driving.  Law Enforcement urges people to have addresses already entered into the GPS on your phone before you start driving to your destination.  Some cell phones have the option for you to “talk to text” while driving.  Law enforcement still urges everyone to put away distractions and pay attention to the road.

Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) reminds us that it is illegal for drivers under age 18 to use a cell phone, whether handheld or hands-free except to call 911 in an emergency.  Parents are also reminded that cell phone use is totally banned for teen drivers during their permit and provisional license stages.   It is also illegal to pick up your phone while at a stoplight, as you are still operating a motor vehicle.

Did you know there were 9,545 tickets written in the State of Minnesota in 2018 for texting and driving?  In April 2019, the MN State Patrol, along with local police departments, participated in a Distracted Driving Campaign. They specifically looked for distracted drivers who were texting and driving. *It is important to note all departments look for these violations daily, even if they did not participate in this campaign.  To illustrate this is a re-occurring problem in Washington county, here are a few statistics from this Distracted Driving Campaign:

Bayport PD – 0 tickets issued
Cottage Grove PD – 0 tickets issued
MN State Patrol District 2400 – out of Oakdale – 222 tickets issued
Oak Park Heights PD – 5 tickets issued
St. Paul Park PD – 1 ticket issued
Stillwater PD – 0 tickets issued
Woodbury PD – 27 tickets issued
Washington County Sheriff’s office – 10 tickets issued

The penalties are always something that people want to know about.

If you get caught, it is considered a Petty Misdemeanor (PM) and you may be charged with paying a $50.00 fine. Multiple violations result in higher fines plus paying court fees.  In the big picture, your driver’s license and your ability to drive may be at risk as well. Distracted driving resulting in a crash, will have penalties on much higher level – crashing your car, hurting another person, etc.

Wisconsin has a hand-held or hands-free cell phone law as well. Some of the conditions are the same as Minnesota and it might seem like common sense, but in WI you also cannot use a hand-held mobile device while driving through a work zone. Penalties in WI are similar to MN, but you will also lose demerit points on your Driver’s License.

Have a safe Summer on the road and put your cell phone down while driving.

For future references and if you want to learn more about Distracted Driving, check out the following resources online:

  • Minnesota Department of Public Safety- Office of Traffic Safety
  • Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
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