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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