By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers are closer than they’ve ever been to toughening distracted driving laws.

One in four crashes in Minnesota is caused by someone who is playing on their phone while driving. Additionally, more than 70 people are killed each year in those crashes.

In an emotional display of unity, victim’s families stood together Thursday at the state Capitol. They rallied for a law that allows drivers to only use phones if they are using hands-free devices.

“A lot of people say to me it must be healing to do these things about distracted driving. It’s not about that,” said Greg LaValle. “Anybody who’s had a kid knows you’ll do just about anything for your kid, and that’s what it is for me.”

LaVallee’s son, Phil, was a college runner out for a jog when he was killed by someone on their phone.

“It’s the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing I think of when I go to bed at night,” he said. “It’s always there, and anytime our family is together, it’s incomplete.”

That’s a sentiment Tom Goeltz understands well.

A driving safety instructor, he lost his daughter and unborn grandchild to a crime he’d spent years trying to stop.

“We need laws just like drunk driving, where you go to jail and you get a $1,000 fine with court cost and fees, that starts to change behaviors,” he said.

In Minnesota, when someone gets their first DWI, it’s a $1,000 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

When someone is texting on their phone while driving, it’s a $50 fine, plus a court fee.

State Rep. Mark Uglem (R-Champlin) is sponsoring a hands-free driving bill that would give officers much more power to pull over anyone who appears to be playing on their phone.

“It’s time other states are doing this, we have to get caught up with the times and technology,” he said.

The hands-free bill now has to go to another state House committee. The hope is that soon it could be on the House floor for a vote, and it does have some serious bipartisan support.

Comments (4)
  1. Texting is not just a “teen” problem. There are millions of employees in company cars and fleet vehicles who try to “multi-task” behind the wheel.

    While Minnesota may seek to lower distracted driving by increasing penalties, fees and regulations, there is another option. There are anti-texting apps, like AT&T DriveMode which is FREE!

    One area that is rarely discussed is that Minnesota has thousands of government vehicles that inspectors, regulators and the agricultural department use as fleet vehicles, but they do not have the technology to diminish distracted driving. I would love to see one state lead by example and use a program, like FleetMode, to block texts, redirect incoming phone calls, and impede all other apps in the State vehicles. If we want our state roads to be safer, let’s start by making our state vehicles safer.

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