On Wednesday, January 23, legislation chief-authored by Senator David Osmek [R-Mound] to discourage distracted driving and raise awareness of the problem passed the Senate Transportation Committee on a bipartisan, unanimous vote. Under the proposal, the penalty for injuring or killing someone using a cell phone while driving will be the same penalty as driving under the influence of alcohol. The legislation includes an exemption for using devices with a hands-free setting.
“Individuals who engage in distracted behavior, such as texting while driving, understand they are putting lives in danger. They need to be punished just as individuals who use drugs or alcohol and cause a serious accident,” said Senator Osmek. “Over one in five crashes on Minnesota roads is the result of distracted driving. The time to address this issue is now.”
Over the last five years (2013-2017) in Minnesota, distracted or inattentive driving resulted in an average of 53 deaths and 216 serious injuries each year. The Department of Traffic Safety Office estimates these numbers are underreported due to law enforcement’s challenge in determining distraction as a crash factor. In 2015, 74 individuals were killed on Minnesota roads due to distracted driving, while there were 95 fatalities due to drunk-driving.
Rather than banning the use of cell phones while driving, Senator Osmek’s bill focuses on holding drivers accountable and providing penalties for drivers who are risking lives by their actions.
“By increasing the penalties to DUI level, we are giving law enforcement another tool to raise awareness of this issue, and providing justice for victims of distracted driving,” added Senator Osmek.
In addition to making the penalty for operating a motor vehicle while using an electronic device and causing an accident equal to current penalties for DUIs, the legislation also increases the driver’s education requirements for distracted driving curriculum and increases the fines for texting while driving, including the possible forfeiture of a phone after a third or subsequent violation.
“This bill focuses on educating inexperienced drivers and punishing appropriately those who risk lives by their actions,” concluded Senator Osmek. “We need to hold drivers accountable and this legislation strives to accomplish that.”