ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers are debating a ban on hand held cell phones while driving. The ban would include texting or talking on a handheld phone, but would allow hands-free devices.
Safety experts say distracted driving with a handheld cell phone is a significant cause of death and injury. Now, Minnesota could join the 14 states that ban it.READ MORE: Elk River Teacher's Discussion On Police Violence And Unrest Angers Some Parents
“This bill is very important,” Rep. Mark Uglem (R-Champlin) said. “We do not outlaw cell phone use in a car. You can still call, but it has to be hands free.”
According to state records, 411 people died on Minnesota roads last year — most of them from drunk driving and speeding. The third highest cause of death is distracted driving, which experts believe is connected to drivers on cell phones.
Rhonda Maurer’s uncle and cousin both died in the 2015 crash in which a pickup truck driver was distracted on a cell phone. Now, she works with Minnesotans Against Distracted Driving.READ MORE: 'Unbelievable' Pandemic Furniture Demand Causing Extreme Delivery Delays
“It makes it not an accident,” she said. “A conversation on Facebook while driving at 65 mph is what took the lives of Chuck and Cassie.”
For now, the proposed law makes using a hand held cell phone a misdemeanor, the same as texting while driving. But the penalties are very likely to get tougher.
“Put this down,” Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) said, with his phone in his hand. “Put it away when you are driving!”MORE NEWS: Unnecessary Roughness? Former Gophers Claim Tough Practices Ended Football Careers
Devices that are for navigational purposes only would be exempt. Still, distracted driving is rising fast and Minnesota traffic safety officials were startled to see highway deaths rise 14 percent last year. The new law would be one way to start addressing it.