Minn. Law Agencies Get Tough On Distracted Drivers

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota State Trooper Tim Koehler’s seen it all. Recently, a naked driver reading the bible almost hit one of his coworkers. Last summer, he pulled over a guy who had rigged up a television set so he could watch TV while driving.

“We see all extremes of behaviors by motorists,” Koehler said.

Law enforcement officers from about 400 Minnesota agencies worked overtime Thursday to catch distracted drivers and make sure they got the message: pay attention.

“It’s really a plea to the public to think about what’s important while you’re driving and limit those things that you can limit,” said State Patrol spokesman Lt. Eric Roeske.

Distracted driving is a leading cause of crashes in Minnesota, accounting for about 20 percent annually, but the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said the number of traffic accidents caused by distracted driving is seriously underreported.

Although inattentive driving can be a ticket in itself, it usually isn’t proven unless an accident occurs, Roeske said. A more common ticket is for texting while driving or seatbelt violations. But people who swerve between lanes or speed often weren’t paying attention, he said.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped a person for a violation and they didn’t realize they did it,” Roeske said.

A $105,000 federal grant paid for 2,500 additional enforcement hours for Thursday’s crackdown. A statewide tally for citations issued Thursday wasn’t kept.

About five hours into his shift, Koehler had accumulated a stack of about 13 tickets. He’s been in law enforcement for 20 years now, and said distracted driving’s gotten a lot worse since he started.

“It’s becoming more and more of an issue,” he said. The vast majority of offenders Koehler sees are people age 35 and younger; many of them still have their provisional licenses.

Koehler said he pulled over a young woman from North Dakota the other day when he saw her driving — with her head down and “thumbs going” as she texted on her cell phone.

“It was more important for her to get a text out to who she was communicating with than focusing on her driving,” he said.

The subject got more attention this week when a 20-year-old Eden Prairie woman with two young children in the car seriously injured a motorcyclist after hitting him head-on. She was texting and the victim claims she did not look up. The woman faces a felony and other less serious charges.

It’s not just texting, either. Now that people have the Internet on their phones, searching Google or finding a song to play becomes an issue too, Koehler said.

Solving the problem is simple, Koehler said. It amounts to putting away the electronic device, setting down the coffee, putting down the book or applying makeup before leaving for work.

Often, people are just trying to do too much at once.

When Koehler spotted a driver talking on his cell phone and failing to signal before moving into the left lane, he quickly sped up and pulled the man over.

“You probably don’t have enough hands to run the steering wheel, the turn signal and be on the phone at the same time,” Koehler said to the man, who sheepishly agreed. Koehler let him off with a warning.

A woman in a minivan across the median from Koehler’s patrol car also caught his eye. He pointed at her and noted she was on the phone, trying to merge into traffic and had a piece of paper in her right hand.

“See her fumbling with the wheel; she’s not completely focused on her driving,” Koehler said, as he watched her pull out in the opposite direction. “I can’t get everybody I see.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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  • Ellen

    They absolutely need to get tough on drivers that drive distracted! There are way too many thoughtless and stupid people out there that on constantly on their cell phone while driving. It’s unnerving to see them speeding along the freeway, or
    taking too-fast turns at an intersection with ONE hand on the wheel, and the other gripping their cell phone. Keep your mind on your driving people!

    • Frustrated

      I agree that we need to get tough on distracted driving. Just this morning I witnessed two police officers in downtown St. Paul driving distracted. One was a St. Paul officer who was texting while driving the other was a metro transit officer who was talking on the phone while drinking a cup of coffee at the same time. My question is who is going to police the people who are policing us.

  • Walker

    Studies have shown that as many as 70% of young people think there is nothing wrong with driving and testing at the same time, and that this is an “old person” problem. I mean “I multi-task all the time. Don’t punish me just because my parents can’t handle it.” When something like 3 out of every 4 people actually admit they have texted while driving, this is more than a small problem.

  • Slick Willy

    All I gotta say is practic what you preach. Pay close attention to our “enforcing” law enforcement. I see most of them driving around talking on their cell phones too. The radio (business) the cell phone (???) Honey what’s for dinner??

    • Tom

      But they are trained to do so. What a joke. Most law enforcement should be working at Mcdonalds.

  • mac

    i believe i just read a few days ago where the mn.st.potrol asked people to call in if they see careless driving. st.potrol is asking to use cellphones.which way do they want it.

    • Ellen

      Once I needed to report unsafe driving by a semi truck….I pulled off the road and made the call.

  • Victim Du Jour


    You sound like you have the same mindset as a Kindergarten Tattle Tale.

    • Ellen

      Sounds like you are ONE OF THE MORONS! This semi was swerving from one lane to the other, putting other motorists in danger! Smart drivers dropped back to avoid the gravel flying when his wheels hit the shoulder. Drivers with a death wish speeded around him when they had a brief opportunity when he temporarily stayed in one lane. And I’m a tattletale for reporting it? Careless drivers KILL innocent people! Wives, husbands, daughters, sons, etc.

    • Paul Buckley

      Thank you so much, Ellen. Perhap “Victim Du Jour” will meet one of these “mindset as a Kindergarten Tattle Tale” in a head on one day and say….Ellen, you sure were right…..and good bye….

      • Paul Buckley

        When my cellphone goes off ….it’s Jimmy Buffett singing Margaritaville….and I won’t answer or reply until I’m in a safe place…..not driving..

        • TS


    • Hannah

      Victim. Grow up and get wise! She is NOT a tattle tale….she did the right thing!

  • Chief Thumbboby

    If you’re the kind of driver who needs a daily reminder to drive safely -or- if you want to send the message to other drivers on the road, check out the cool stuff at http://www.thumbsonthewheel.com.

    Either way, you can be thumbbody:)

  • RIII

    Police text while driving all the time. I for one am tired of watching them swerve and cut off other drivers.

  • Devoided

    Remember if you ever get pulled over for texting while driving…..you do not have to show the officer your phone (the only way he can prove it) unless the officer has a search warrant. 5th amendment & the 14th amendment pretty much void enforcement of this law.

    • captainobvious

      And you will get a ticket and if you choose to fight it in court then he will have full access to your phone records, so why bother acting like a jag-off refusing to show them your phone. Just act like a adult and dont text and drive

    • Mike

      I would rather they drag me into a court of law, I don’t want police officers working against my rights as they try to do, (Metro Gang Strike Task Force). I also have been hearing in the news over the last few days how certain cell phones carry GPS tracking records that law enforcement is a able to take through software initiative in their squad cars and know every detail about your activities. F big brother. Do not voluntary give the police anything, anytime, anywhere. if you have not broken any law, it is your constitutionally established right and not necessary beyond what is required to maintain your innocence.

    • rob

      Not sure where you got your law degree, but you should ask for a refund….

  • Happy

    I can’t wait until we start getting tough on crooked politicians

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