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Distracted driving: Ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving

Courtesy of MnDOT
For now, the bill to ban holding cellphones will be a good start.

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

With trucking associations and insurance companies describing distracted driving and cellphone use behind the wheel at “epidemic” levels, it’s time Minnesota lawmakers acted to change the law on this critical public safety issue.

Dozens of victims’ families rallied at the state Capitol last Thursday to push for a bill that would restrict motorists from holding a cellphone while driving. Greg Tikalsky, of New Prague, was one of them. He lost his father Joe after a driver on her cellphone hit and killed him as he was walking to his mailbox to get his newspaper.

Tikalsky told the rally that while Oregon and Washington passed cellphone restriction laws, Minnesota did nothing as another 70 victims were buried. There have been at least two other cases in the Mankato area in recent years where drivers on their cellphones killed pedestrians or other motorists.

The cases involved a young couple out for an afternoon motorcycle ride, and another man walking along a gravel shoulder of the road in addition to the Tikalsky case.

All defendants struck a plea bargain with prosecutors. One was using Snapchat while she was driving. Another was texting. A third was looking at her cellphone when she pulled out onto a highway. The jail sentences for all combined were less than a month. One got only probation and community service.

These pages have urged lawmakers to make sentences tougher for these distracted driving cases, and that they should be treated as harshly if not harsher than drunk driving. A recent Star Tribune poll found the same sentiment among all Minnesotans. Some 78 percent of respondents said penalties for texting or checking social media on the phone while driving should be as serious as drunken driving.

But for now, the bill to ban holding cellphones will be a good start. The law wouldn’t ban talking on a cellphone while driving, as Blue Tooth and other hands-free technology remove the need to picking up a cellphone and divert attention from the roadway. Interestingly, the Star Tribune poll also showed 79 percent of people think even talking on a cellphone while driving should be illegal.

The bipartisan bill in the House (HF 1180) has co-authors who include Mankato area representatives Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, and Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe. The Senate bill (SF 837) also has a bipartisan group of authors.

The proposed fines are lower than we would like. The first violation would carry only a $50 fine plus court costs and the second violation would be $275 fine plus court costs.

Still, passage of this common sense public safety bill should be a no-brainer. It’s up to Republican caucus leaders in the House and Senate to allow this bill to pass through committee and not be stalled or tabled at the behest of leadership because of some interest group.

Minnesota should pass this cellphone restriction bill. It will enhance public safety on the roads and let everyone know that distracted driving due to a cellphone use is not acceptable.

Republished with permission.


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Comments (6)

Awful idea - where do we stop?

There are people who can't handle a cellphone in the car and there are people who use it responsibly. Instead of an outright ban, simply increase the penalties for distracted drivers WHEN they commit another crime, whether it's going through a stoplight, speeding, etc. Much like not wearing a seat belt.

There is absolutely no reason that a person checking their phone quick at a red light should be made to pay a fine. What for? Who are they hurting? I'm sick of trying to hide my phone like a criminal when stopped just to switch to another podcast.

I feel terrible for those families who've lost a loved one due to a distracted driver. But where would this stop? What about people applying makeup while driving? Or those with distracting crying kids in the backseat? Increase the penalties IF an actual crime has been committed. Allow those who are responsible to continue being responsible while driving.

Protect Responsible, Law Abiding Phone Owners!

Virtually everything you said could be said about driving after drinking. Some people will not feel impaired with a BAC of .08, some will. Not everyone who drives while drunk or over the legal limit is going to injure someone, so why should it be a crime?

Some drunks are good drivers.

I have known many. If I suggest that they may be too drunk to drive then they might have another one "for the road", just to prove me wrong. And then make it home safely every time.

Why should there be an arbitrary blood alcohol content cut-off when some drunks drive responsibly for years and never get in a crash? It should be more personalized according to ability - or just wait until something bad happens, then impose penalties.

I don't use my cell phone while driving, but I do drink. I like your statement, "There are people who can't handle..." but your application of it may be too limited.


…to the editorial. The privilege of using a cell phone should not eclipse someone's right to live. Arguments such as those from Mr. Riddel are excuses at best, and more often sophistry to justify what is correctly identified in multiple studies as "distracted driving" with fatal consequences. I agree with those who suggest that hand-held cell phone use be treated by law enforcement as equivalent to drunk driving. The penalty should be severe, and repeat offenses should merit license revocation and jail time.

Unless Mr. Riddel is saving a life while sitting at that red light, checking his phone, there's no reason why he should be allowed to drive a potentially lethal weapon that, if operated properly, should demand all of his attention behind the wheel. If it helps any, I do agree with his example of applying makeup, and I could toss in a few other behaviors that I've observed over the past few years. All of them, including "checking my phone" fall under the category of distracted driving, and I'd argue that there ought to be penalties and legal consequences for distracted driving, whether it's due to cell phone use, makeup application, newspaper reading, electronic tablet use, and an assortment of other activities that threaten the safety of unsuspecting (or even suspecting) drivers sharing the road with the perpetrator.

I have a cell phone myself, but I neither answer nor make calls while I'm driving.

a total sham

I'm guessing the cell phone industry is solidly behind this bill.

It's a sham, intended to head off meaningful regulation under the pretense that hand-held phones are the problem. But as everyone connected with this bill no doubt knows, hands-free calls are just as dangerous. It's not your hand that's being distracted, it's your brain.

" Blue Tooth and other hands-free technology remove the need to picking up a cellphone and divert attention from the roadway. " That's not true - your attention is diverted as soon as you start talking.

This bill will get the remaining users of 'flip phones' to pony up for new Bluetooth-connected smartphones - and for new Bluetooth equipped cars - just what the industry wants. And the end result will actually be more calls - and longer calls - while driving.

So ban phone use

PERIOD. This is one area where reactive justice is insuffficient to address the problem at hand. I drive all day, every day, the behavior I see on the road boggles the mind. It'll be a process, to wean folks off their instant access, instant gratification lifestyle, but I can use the example of my father, who when I was young I remember vividly proclaiming, "I'll NEVER wear a seatbelt, I don't care WHAT the law says". He's now the one who won't leave the driveway until every passenger is belted in securely.