Distracted driving enforcement period begins Monday

Published 9:49 am Saturday, April 6, 2019

Distracted driving-related crashes caused 27 fatalities and 178 serious injuries last year in Minnesota, according to preliminary numbers from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS).

To increase awareness and change dangerous behaviors, more than 300 Minnesota law enforcement agencies, including the Austin Police Department and Mower County Sheriff’s Office, will begin a three-week extra distracted driving enforcement campaign from April 8-30. The distracted driving campaign is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety.

“Imagine how you would react if an officer knocked on your door and told you a loved one died in a car crash,” said Mike Hanson, Office of Traffic Safety director. “Too many Minnesotans don’t have to imagine, because it’s their sobering reality. Distractions are real and lead to dreams shattered and lives cut short in a second. Protect everyone around you by putting the distractions away and focusing 100 percent on the road.”

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Austin Police Chief David McKichan said texting is one of the main causes of distracted driving.

“It seems like it only takes a couple of seconds to send that text, but it makes you take your eyes off the road and you travel a lot further than you realize,” he said.

Texting citations rose by 30 percent from 2017 to 2018, with 1,576 drivers cited during extra enforcement periods last year, according to the DPS. Minnesota law enforcement issued a total of 9,545 texting citations overall last year.

Since 2012, texting citations have increased by 459 percent, according to the DPS.

The use of mobile devices while driving is illegal under Minnesota’s “Use of Wireless Communications Device” statute. Penalties for this violation can include $50 plus court fees for a first offense and $275 plus court fees for a second and/or subsequent offense.  If you injure or kill someone because of texting and driving, you can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.

Other contributing factors to distracted driving include car controls, such as music, navigation devices, eating, drinking, children and passengers.

McKichan said local law enforcement will dedicate 18 hours of overtime to April’s enforcement period. Officers will also watch for speeding and seatbelt violations.

“We want people to make good decisions and not run into one of our officers and get a citation,” he said.