Distracted driving numbers up
Austin Police Department and Mower County Sheriff’s Office, along with 300 other Minnesota law enforcement units finished a seven-day campaign to crack down on the number of distracted drivers.
Just 16 of this year’s citations were given in Mower County and Austin, whose law enforcement agencies made 64 stops combined.
Austin Police Captain Dave McKichan said they did six four-hour shifts, or 24 hours of overtime during the campaign.
“At all times of the year, we encourage people to put the phone down,” McKichan said.
A Minnesota Department of Public Safety press release said 972 citations were handed out to drivers for texting while driving during the seven day campaign, compared to last year’s total of 909 during a six day campaign.
McKichan said the most important part of the campaign is educating people about distracted driving.
“Any time when you’re driving through town, you can look over and see people using their cell phone,” he said. “The education part is big.”
In 2015, distracted driving contributed to 174 serious injuries and 74 deaths, up from 61 deaths in 2014, the report said.
It is illegal in Minnesota to read, compose or send texts and emails and go online while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic, which includes sitting at a stoplight or stop sign or stopped in traffic.
It is also illegal for drivers with a permit or provisional driver’s license to use a cell phone while driving, except for emergencies to call 911.
“Multi-tasking is often praised in our society but behind the wheel, it can be a death sentence,” Donna Berger, Office of Traffic Safety Director, said in the press release. “If you’re looking down at your phone, you may not see that car suddenly stopping ahead of you, that person biking along the side or that oncoming truck because you drifted across the center line. Please put the phone down and eliminate distractions to stay safe and stay alive.”
Violations officers saw during the campaign
• Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office stopped a driver twice in one day for texting — two different officers made the stops.
• A trooper tried to stop a texting driver for two miles before the driver pulled over. The driver wasn’t fleeing but was “extremely distracted by texting.”
• A driver was cited by Elk River Police for using social media on the phone — was cited for the same thing two days prior.
• St. Joseph police stopped a driver for running a stop sign — driver was distracted by a dog escaping its crate in his vehicle.
• Moorhead Police and Clay County Sheriff’s Office “Busted by the Bus” campaign resulted in 105 texting while driving violations.