MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A bill to ban handheld cell phones when driving took a major step forward at the State Capitol Tuesday.
A powerful House committee voted unanimously to advance the bill, which requires drivers to use only hands-free devices.
It’s already illegal to text and drive, but now lawmakers want Minnesota to ban handheld phones or GPS devices.
The vote comes as the Minnesota State Patrol reports an 18 percent increase in distracted driving fatalities in the state.
At least 70 people die on Minnesota roads every year from distracted driving. Many are innocent victims, like Joe Tikalsky, who was killed on the side of the road as he walked to get his paper.
Tikalsky’s son testified at the Capitol wearing the same color jacket his father wore that day, but the texting driver didn’t see.
“Today we have to be concerned about all hours of the day because of distracted drivers,” Greg Tikalsky said. “It’s a crap shoot. Look at the face of the drivers who pass you. If you’re not scared, you’re not paying attention.”
The bill bans handheld cell phones while driving, but allows hands-free phones through voice activated systems. And it also bans handheld GPS or navigation systems unless integrated into the vehicle.
One lawmaker who is a paramedic said he’s had a front-row seat to traffic deaths.
“Life is a right, driving is a privilege. And all we are doing with this bill is making a privilege safer, to protect a right,” Rep. Jim Newberger said.
Family members of distracted driving victims held up images of loved ones killed by distracted, and some were moved to tears. Also, the normally stoic lawmaker who authored the bill.
“All of our good people who have been touched by this,” Rep. Mark Uglem said. “I can tell you, we have to do it.”
The penalty for using a handheld phone while driving would be only $50 on the first offense, but $225 for subsequent offenses.