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Ask a Trooper: Cell phones & driving

Question: There are way too many other drivers on their cell phones calling or texting. Why don’t you enforce these laws? We never hear about it.

Answer: The Minnesota State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies have been, and will continue to be actively involved in Distracted Driving and Hands-Free enforcement campaigns throughout Minnesota. As a matter of fact, during the first 11 months of the Hands-Free cell phone law, officers cited 19,160 drivers for falling to comply. To remind motorists about the law and to help educate the public on the importance of driving smart, the State Patrol will partner with law enforcement agencies and traffic safety partners across Minnesota to conduct extra Hands-Free and Distracted Driving enforcement August 1st-8th.

The law allows a driver to use their cell phone to make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts and get directions, but only by voice commands or single-touch activation without holding the phone. I believe that distracted driving, namely texting and using the internet on our phones, is a major distraction that causes many crashes. I’ve based this belief not only on my years of training and experience, but also on statistics. Each year in Minnesota, distracted or inattentive driving is a factor in one in four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries. It is important to note that these numbers are vastly under-reported due to law enforcement’s challenge in determining distraction as a crash factor.

Driving is a challenging activity that involves steering, checking mirrors, signaling, maintaining safe speed, reading road signs, and more. Adding non-driving tasks behind the wheel significantly increases the risk of a crash. Attentive driving is critical as the traffic environment can change in an instant, such as lights changing, vehicles braking quickly, changing lanes, road conditions, and pedestrians crossing or walking along the roadways.

A recent in-depth study showed that the average person checking/ sending text messages takes their eyes off the roadway for approximately 4.6 seconds each time. At 55 mph you have traveled the length of a football field without looking up. Ask yourself what can happen during that time and distance? Could you drift over the shoulder and hit somebody changing their flat tire? Drivers need to know the serious dangers of distracted driving and understand that texting and driving is unacceptable.

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You can avoid a ticket — and a crash — if you simply buckle up, drive at safe speeds, pay attention and always drive sober. Help us drive Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths.

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson – Minnesota State Patrol at 2900 48th Street NW, Rochester MN 55901-5848. (Or reach him at, Troy.Christianson@state.mn.us) Twitter: MSPPIO_SOUTH

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