MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — April marks Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and multiple law enforcement agencies hit the streets Wednesday in an effort designed to combat the problem.
About a dozen officers from five different agencies, including the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office, were out looking for distracted drivers in Apple Valley.
Over in Hennepin County, officials say the problem has gotten worse as social media apps have grown in popularity.
“Mobile devices have become more prevalent in our society. Everybody has got one, everybody is controlled or influenced by them,” said Cpt. Todd Turpitt of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.
After 26 years in Hennepin County, Turpitt has seen a rise in distracted driving since the dawn of cellphones in the state.
“When you look at the physics of it, you have a 2,000-plus-pound automobile going down the road … you aren’t looking at it. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what can happen there,” Turpitt said.
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There’s been an 18-percent increase in distracted driving deaths in Minnesota from 2014 to 2015, but oftentimes, it’s hard to catch folks in the act.
“It’s always a challenge to catch people doing it, we really rely on the public to make it an education piece,” Turpitt said. “We want people to embrace that belief that they should be doing it for their own safety.”
In part to eliminate enforcement confusion, there is a hands-free bill that moved through the legislature, aiming to ban all cellphones behind the wheel for everything, even phone calls.
The legislation had a hearing before a committee, but no other action on the measure is scheduled. The sponsor of the bill says he will try again in the next session.
The fine for distracted driving right now in Minnesota is $225.