By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the four years from 2013 to 2017, Minnesota experienced the loss of 265 lives ended at the hands of a distracted driver.

Greg Lavallee’s son, Phillip, was among them. He was a gifted long distance runner who dreamed of the chance one day to run in the Olympics.

“His hopes and dreams were taken from him in an instant, because of a driver’s choice,” he said.

LaVallee was among other victim’s families, law enforcement leaders and safety advocates who stood arm-in-arm with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson Friday morning. Swanson was unveiling a shocking new report on distracted driving in Minnesota in hopes it will lead to stronger distracted driving laws.

“Too many lives are being shattered by distracted drivers. I’ve met with too many families, gotten too many letters from people whose lives will never be the same again because of this problem,” Swanson said.

The report cites findings from an AT&T study of distracted drivers. Twenty-seven percent of them questioned acknowledged haven driven while checking Facebook. Seventeen percent said they take photos while driving, while 10 percent say they drive and video chat at the same time.

Peggy Riggs lost her son David, who was struck from behind by a distracted driver while he was pulling into the family’s driveway.

“I have my older son who did two tours in Afghanistan and who came home alive. But my 19-year-old couldn’t pull into his driveway without losing his life,” Riggs said.

Lori Swanson says it’s time to get tougher. She would start by banning all use of cell phones while driving, allowing only hands-free devices. That is something 16 other states already require.

Fines for a first offense would triple, from the present $50 fine to $175, plus court costs. And driving licenses could be revoked for repeat offenders, anywhere from 30 to 60 to 90 days, depending on a driver’s record.

Blaine police chief Brian Podany said, “This isn’t a teenager problem, this isn’t a law enforcement problem, this isn’t a political problem, this is a we problem, we as a society own this.”

Clearly Minnesotans are getting fed up with the growing human cost of distracted driving. Opinion polls show that 87 percent of respondents want tougher penalties for offenders. Soon it will be up to lawmakers to decide if that will happen.

AG Press Conference Video:

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