MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Trooper Dean Lange parked his cruiser on the shoulder of an interstate off ramp, blind to the eye of drivers getting off I-394.
“It’s a lot easier to see if people are wearing their seat belts,” said Lange.
He may be looking for seat belt violators but today his agency, along with hundreds of others, are cracking down on distracted drivers.
“We’re looking mostly for drivers who are texting,” said Lange.
Lange has been with Minnesota State Patrol for two years and patrols the west metro area. He’s one of 10 additional troopers working the west metro district this Thursday.
Nearly 400 agencies stepped up patrols to ticket drivers who exhibit distracted driving behavior.
In Minnesota, it’s illegal for drivers to read, compose or send texts and emails, or to access the Internet on a wireless device while a car is in motion or part of traffic. For drivers under the age of 18, it’s illegal for them to even use a cell phone while driving.
Lange says in his two years on the force he’s only given tickets for texting while driving to a few people.
“People know it’s against the law to text and drive,” said Lange. “So a lot of times they’ll be holding their phone down by their lap.”
The people he did catch were blatantly texting right next to him as he pulled up. One driver told him she was looking for a phone number and wasn’t texting.
“I’ll ask them, ‘Well, can you show me?'” said Lange.
“Distracted just doesn’t mean texting. (It means) putting on your makeup, shaving, things like that,” said Lange. “I stopped a woman for putting on makeup one day. She had her visor pulled down and was using the mirror.”
Even if he doesn’t see a phone, he can sometimes spot a distracted driver by their driving behavior.
“They can be weaving in their lane, crossing the lines,” said Lange. “Someone with varying speeds — speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down — is a good indicator of somebody who’s distracted.”
The Department of Public Safety says 20 percent of crashes in Minnesota are caused by distracted drivers every year, resulting in 70 deaths and 350 injuries. They say those numbers are vastly under-reported due to the challenges officers face in determining “distraction” as a contributing crash factor.
As of 11 a.m. Thursday, Lange had not ticketed any distracted drivers, but he did catch some speeders and some drivers not wearing a seatbelt.
“People see my car coming down the road and they know they need to put their phone down,” said Lange.
WCCO’s Edgar Linares Interviews Dean Lange