Last updated: August 3, 2015
Distracted driving updates: Drivers convicted of repeated violations of Minnesota’s texting & driving law are now subject to additional $225 fines. The plan was part of the omnibus Public Safety Finance bill, which cleared the Legislature in May. State Rep. Joe Atkins pushed for tougher penalties — up to $500 for a third conviction — but was rebuffed. Atkins also pushed for tougher distracted driving penalties in the previous session. The new fines took effect Aug. 1.
Driver inattention and distraction are now the top contributing factors to traffic fatalities in Minnesota, state officials say. Speed previously was the No. 1 factor. The good news was Minnesota traffic fatalities dropped to 361 in 2014, the lowest since 1944. In multiple-vehicle crashes, distraction was highest in the 35-64 age group, followed by young adults. Overall, 20 percent of crashes were laid to inattention/distraction. Read the Office of Traffic Safety report.
A texting ban became law in 2008, with a fine of $50, but State Police complain it is “a very difficult law to enforce.” Regardless, the number of texting & driving tickets has increased every year.
Minnesota has no restrictions on adult drivers’ use of cell phones.
- Text messaging and Internet use outlawed for all drivers.
- Drivers under the age of 18 with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses are prohibited from using cell phones.
- School bus drivers barred from using cell phones for personal reasons while vehicle is in motion.
- In some cases, distracted drivers can be ticketed for reckless or careless driving, per the Office of Traffic Safety.
Distracted driving legislation (2015-2016):
SF 1647: Establishes supplementary fine of $225 for second and subsequent violations of state texting & driving law. Also contains restrictions on digital advertising displays. Omnibus transportation bill. Approved by Senate in a 42-20 vote of April 27. Approved by House and Senate after conference committee on May 18. Signed into law by the governor May 22. Effective Aug. 1, 2015.
House File 1596: Would add another $50 fine to existing fine for serial offenders of texing & driving law. (Hornstein)
HF 1683: Would bar cell phone use by drivers under the age of 18. (Bernardy)
Distracted driving notes (2015):
Distracted driving is a factor in one out of four vehicle crashes in Minnesota, the Department of Public Safety estimates.
The Office of Traffic Safety says an increase in distracted driving fines will help the state qualify for federal grant money to educate motorists about the problem. Gov. Mark Dayton agreed, listing it in his recommendations for Minnesota’s two-year budget. “Enhanced penalties for second and subsequent citations should reduce the number of drivers texting and accessing the Internet via their smartphone, thus resulting in fewer fatal and serious injury crashes,” the governor’s proposal said. The Department of Public Safety had sought to double the fine for serial offenders of the state’s distracted driving law.
State Rep. Connie Bernardy proposed a ban on cell phone use by all drivers under the age of 18, but the plan gained no traction during the 2015 session.
2014 distracted driving notes:
No distracted driving legislation found success between 2010 and 2014. State Rep. Frank Hornstein, who heads the House Transportation Committee, says, “The prospects of getting a cell phone ban are not great.” His plan to ban mobile phone use in construction zones failed to gain any traction in 2014.
A pair of bills for 2013-2014 sought to punish those who cause deaths or serious bodily harm while driving distracted, but neither advanced before the session ended. Senate Bill 206 and House Bill 277 were broad bills that also cite aggressive, careless and reckless driving. Text messaging and talking on handheld cell phones were singled out. Fines up to $20,000 and 10 years in prison for multiple offenders.
The Department of Public Safety estimates the toll from distracted driving is about 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries a year, officials say. In 2013, there were 63 deaths and 8,038 injuries caused by inattentive drivers in Minnesota. Law officers wrote 1,739 tickets for texting in 2013.
A Rock County truck driver has been charged with criminal vehicular homicide in the July death of a woman who was biking with her daughters. The driver, Christopher M. Weber, told police he was attempting to do online banking while driving, according to the Star Tribune.
The Department of Public Safety says the April 2014 distracted driving sweep shows more enforcement is needed for texting & driving offenses: “The number of citations made in just those 10 days (550) shows that far too many drivers still make poor choices behind the wheel,” said Department of Public Safety director Donna Berger. “Drivers can and will be ticketed at any time for texting while driving, not just during an enhanced enforcement campaign.” The Distracted Driving Awareness crackdown also resulted in almost 1,400 seat-belt violations.
Inattention was the contributing factor in 17,598 crashes in 2013, the Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety reported. That’s 23 percent of all crashes.
Minnesota texting & driving tickets have increased in number every year since enactment of the law (source: OTS):
- 2013 – 2,189
- 2012 – 1,718
- 2011 – 1,270
- 2010 – 847
- 2009 – 388
2013-14 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 206: Seeks to punish drivers for inattentive operation of vehicles resulting in a death or serious injury. Cites handheld cellphone use and text messaging. Fine of up to $3,000, suspension of license and a possible one-year imprisonment. For second offenses, fine of up to $20,000 and possible 10-year imprisonment. Offense is a gross misdemeanor. Includes aggressive, careless and reckless driving such as street racing. Failed to advance. (Carlson)
House Bill 277: Seeks separate penalties for aggressive, inattentive, reckless or careless driving resulting in death or serious bodily harm. Cites texting and handheld cell phone use as inattentive driving. Companion to SB 206, above. Failed to advance. (Atkins)
HB 1949: Would bar cell phone use in construction zones. Failed to advance. (Sawatzky)
2013 distracted driving notes:
State Sen. Jim Carlson says Minnesota doesn’t have “a serious enough charge” for drivers who kill or maim while driving distracted and irresponsibly. His SB 206 would give prosecutors the ability to press gross misdemeanor charges with punishments significantly tougher than those possible under current misdemeanors. Carlson, DFL-District 51, is newly elected but previously served in the state Senate. Rep. Joe Atkins is the House sponsor (HB 277)
At least 378 people died on Minnesota’s roads and highways in 2012, officials say. Distracted driving was “primary contributing factor,” the Department of Public Safety reported in its preliminary fatality report of Jan. 3, 2012. Drunken driving remains the biggest killer.
The traffic fatality count for 2012 will near 400 once all crash reports are in, officials say. The death count was the first increase in Minnesota in five years. In 2011, 368 people died in traffic incidents.
2011-12 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 18: Would ban use of cell phones by all drivers on Minnesota roads and highways. No exception for hands-free operation. (Wigel)
House Bill 85: Mandates a one-year license suspension for drivers who cause a death by operating a vehicle “carelessly or heedlessly in disregard of the rights or safety of others.” (Murrow)
HB 68: Adds “careless driving resulting in death” section to statutes as a gross midemeanor. Approved by the House Public Safety committee on Jan. 31. (Garofalo)
Distracted driving notes (2011-2012):
The wife of ex-Minnesota Viking tight end Joe Senser hit and killed a man while on a cell phone, prosecutors say. Amy Senser then allegedly fled the scene. She was sentenced to 41 months on vehicular homicide charges in July 2012.
The Department of Public Safety says distracted driving accidents are “vastly underreported due to law enforcement’s challenge in determining distraction as a crash factor.” In 2011, about 350 people died in vehicle accidents overall. In 2010, there were 411 traffic deaths.
2010 distracted driving notes:
State Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, says a bill is being crafted for 2011 that would toughen the state’s distracted driving law. Minnesota was the third state to approve a ban on text messaging and driving. That law went into effect Aug. 1, 2008. A violation is a petty misdemeanor.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota spoke at the Second Distracted Driving Summit in September, noting “no text message is worth dying for.” Klobuchar is a cosponsor of the Distracted Driving Prevention Act and supports the ALERT Drivers Act, both of which push states to adopt traffic laws against text messaging and handheld cell phone use.
A new state group called Pay Attention and Drive is collecting stories from survivors of distracted driving accidents.
Between 2006 and 2008, there were 60,000 accidents in Minnesota blamed on distracted driving. About 200 lives were lost. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety says distracted driving kills 70 people a year and injures another 350. Distracted driving contributes to one in four accidents statewide, resulting in about 70 deaths a year, the department reports.
The Department of Public Safety reported that 930 citations have been written statewide since the August 2008 enactment of the Minnesota text messaging and driving ban (period ending July 2010). In 2009, only 390 tickets were handed out.
Minnesota police conducted a statewide distracted driving crackdown for the second anniversary of the texting and driving ban’s enactment on Aug. 5, 2010. In September, Ramsey County (St. Paul) conducted a text messaging sweep.
The House and Senate transportation committees on March 3 held a joint hearing on cell phone use by drivers. Dave Teater of the National Safety Council and the activist group Focus Driven told how his son was killed by a driver chatting on a mobile phone. Opposing a ban on handheld cell phone use by adults were Verizon Wireless and AT&T. The Verizon spokesman suggested that drivers “if possible suspend the call in heavy traffic.”
Rep. Sandra Masin, D-Eagan, is the chief author of HB 2351.
Mike Jaros, D-Deluth, has sought a complete ban on drivers using cell phones. His stepson was in a vehicle that was rammed by a cell-phoning driver, but survived.
Katherine Burke Moore, deputy director of the Office of Traffic Safety, told the Star Tribune: “We forget that driving is already a multi-tasking activity. Even when we do it every day, we’re checking mirrors, scanning around the car, and watching for brake lights. Any other distraction is unsafe.”
The Department of Public Safety and AAA (Minnesota/Iowa) ran a competition in which teenagers made television PSAs that educate viewers about the dangers of texting while driving. The winning entry was titled “Moms, Alcohol and Texting.”
2010 legislation (dead):
HB 1339: Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones by drivers. School bus drivers and those with instruction permits not allowed to use cell phones at all. Companion to SB 593, below. (Ruud)
SB 593: Seeks to outlaw use of cell phones by drivers, unless a hands-free device is employed. Bans all cell phone use by drivers with instruction permits. Would outlaw use of cell phones by school bus drivers. Companion to HB 1339, above. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on March 11 and advanced to a second reading.(Bonoff)