Minnesota police crack down on distracted driving

Published 8:45 am Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Drunk driving and weather conditions are traditionally the main focus of safe driving campaigns, but this Thursday Minnesota police will be cracking down on the less discussed problem of distracted driving.

The Austin Police Department will join the 83 police agencies participating throughout the state in a day of increased patrol sweeps for motorists exhibiting factors of distracted driving.

Distracted driving encompasses actions that divert the driver’s attention, such as daydreaming and being overly focused on the radio, as well as new trends like texting while driving.

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To further highlight issues associated with distracted driving, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is sponsoring informational print and television ads about the dangers of distracted driving, which are set to run throughout the week.

“The state’s idea is to push a week-long message that will tie in with the anniversary of the Aug. 1, 2008 texting laws,” said Nathan Bowie, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. “We need people’s primary focus to be on driving. There has been a cultural shift in how we drive. We want to address that by raising public awareness about distracted driving.”

During the day, police officers will educate the people they pull over on texting laws and the dangers of unfocused driving. Austin Police Department will have an additional two to four officers on patrol explicitly looking for distracted drivers.

“People should be aware that no matter where you are in the county or in the city, extra officers will be on the look out,” said Lieutenant John Mueller.

Distracted driving causes an estimated 70 deaths and 350 injuries in Minnesota every year, according to Bowie. A study performed by the University of Utah showed that using cell phones while driving delays a driver’s reaction as much as having a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08 percent.

“We’re trying to elevate this issue to a higher level. We want people to get their thumbs off the phones and on the wheel,” said Bowie.