Pass Law to Ban Phone Use in Vehicles

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Pass Law to Ban Phone Use in Vehicles

by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News


Driving between Benson and Clontarf we met three consecutive cars - not one of the drivers saw us pass by them. All three were glued to their phones not even glancing up as we flew by one another.

A deer jumping out of the ditch would have been in their windshield before they even saw it. Another driver approaching also on his or her phone could drift over the centerline and the two vehicles would hit head-on. A bicyclist on the side of the road could be hit and killed by a distracted driver drifting to the shoulder.

These aren’t made-up scenarios; they’ve happened and tragically they will happen again.

People have died and more will die because drivers checking the messages on their phone, or looking at latest Facebook post, are consumed by the need to be in constant contact. It is more important than their safety or the safety of others on the road. That is why we fully support a proposed Minnesota law that would ban the use of hand-held phones while driving.

A bill to make using a hand-held phone illegal in Minnesota unanimously passed the House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee earlier this month and continues to make its way through the state Legislature. Both Republicans and Democrats support it.

If the law passes, Minnesota would become the 15th state to outlaw the use of handled devices while driving. State law already makes it illegal for a driver to send or read texts, emails, social media posts, or other information on their phones while driving. That prohibition includes when the driver is sitting at a stop sign or stoplight.

But the law is basically worthless as long as a person can legally be holding a phone while driving. It is a law that is universally ignored.

Speaking in favor of the proposed law, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said “the current law against texting while driving is almost impossible to enforce because troopers often can’t determine how drivers are using their phones,” a story provided by Minnesota House Research said.

“If this bill were to pass, and law enforcement saw someone driving down the road with their phone like this [holding phone to the ear], that would be a reason to stop that vehicle and take enforcement action in the form of a citation or a warning,” Langer said.

The proposed law says: When a motor vehicle is in motion or part of traffic, the person operating the vehicle is prohibited from using: 1) a wireless communications device to initiate, compose, read or send an electronic message, or 2) a cellular phone, including but limited to initiating a cellular phone call and talking or listening on the phone.

With the more broad language of the proposed law police, sheriff’s deputies and state patrol officers would have the right to stop people for simply looking like they were using their phones.

The law would allow people to continue to talk on their phones as long as it was in a hands-free mode. “We want you to be able to talk on the phone,” the bill’s lead sponsor Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, said. “We’re not saying no to that. We just want you to be safe. Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road.”

Still, people need to be aware that hands-free driving is not entirely safe driving. The mind doesn’t do two things at the same time with equal clarity. If you are talking to someone on the phone studies have shown that you fog out things happening around you – you can run through red lights or stop signs, not see that deer or bicyclist at the side of the road, or not see the car ahead of you has slowed down because of some object in the road. Talking on the phone while driving is as dangerous as drinking and driving.

Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety works hard to try reduce traffic deaths through education programs and with law enforcement crackdowns on distracted driving, but their efforts have had minimal impact.

Each week the devastating headlines repeat themselves, the DPS says in one sad story after another:
- An 18-year-old driver who was texting didn’t see Peggy Rigg’s 20-year-old son stop on his scooter ready to make a turn into their driveway and struck him from behind. “Imagine, if you can, seeing your child lying in the street right outside your home, motionless, clinging for life,” she told the legislative committee. “Four days later, David was removed from life support.”
- Or, the young mother who was hit and killed while on a bicycle ride with her children, who were severely injured.
- A New Prague school bus driver walking to get his morning paper was killed by a woman allegedly responding to a text.
- A driver sending Facebook messages ran a red light, killing a father and his young daughter in Sherburne County.
- A 20-year-old suspected of being distracted lost control of his vehicle in Washington County, hit an embankment, went airborne and smashed into a car, killing a 22-year-old mother.

How many more heart-wrenching, unnecessary tragedies do we need to read about before people put down their phones and pay attention to driving? We know the vast majority of drivers won’t do it unless forced to; that is why a more strict law is required.

“After steady declines over the last four decades, highway fatalities last year recorded the largest annual percentage increase in 50 years,” a story in the New York Times said. The cause for the big jump? Use of handheld devices in vehicles.

Violating the proposed law would come with the same penalties as the state’s texting ban: a $50 fine for a first offense and a $225 for subsequent offenses.

Texting and talking aren’t the only distracted driving behaviors that lead to accidents – looking back at kids in the back seat, eating in the car, reading books, maps or newspapers, and playing with the radio stations are also causes of accidents. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, distracted driving causes one in four Minnesota car crashes and results in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries a year.

 To make our roads safer, the Legislature needs to pass the ban on the use of hand-held phones in a vehicle.

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