By Mary McGuire

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We are getting a closer look at proposed legislation that would toughen distracted driving penalties.

Republican State Senator David Osmek of Mound wants to make penalties for crashes caused by distracted driving equal to drunk driving. The law would only apply in cases involving injuries or death.

Every day without Katie Burkey is tough for her family, but the holidays make her absence even more painful.

“We won’t have Katie in our lives for the rest of our lives, and we think about her every single day, we miss her every single day,” said mother Karen Altman.

Last September, the 22 year old was killed in a crash on Highway 169 when her car was rear-ended by a semi-truck driven by a 61-year-old man from North Branch. Felony charges were never filed against him, but her family believes he was distracted by something behind the wheel that day.

“To add insult to injury, to not have any accountability, responsibility, or compassion or empathy for the fact that he took a very valuable person from this earth, it’s very hard for us to swallow,” Altman said.

Katie Burkey (credit: CBS)

She knows how devastating it is to lose someone so precious, so suddenly on the road, which is why she is throwing her support behind a new distracted driving proposal.

On the first day of the session next year, Sen. Osmek plans on introducing legislation that would tighten the penalties for distracted driving.

“I’m seeing people watching YouTube on their phones while they are driving,” Osmek said.

He says the legislation would involve a three-pronged approach.

“One, we will treat distracted driving where there is bodily injury or death just like we treat DWIs. Same punishment, same penalties,” Osmek said.

The second component would bump up distracted driving fines from $50 to $250 on the first offense.

“$350 on the second and on the third offense, it’s $500 and we take your cellphone away from you because you have shown that you are not responsible and not following the law,” Osmek said.

Finally, distracted driving would be added to the state’s driver’s education programs.

“I think distracted driving across the board needs to be dealt with and this is just the start,” Osmek said.

If the bill passes, the law would take effect on August 1, 2019. This legislation would not apply to those who are using hands-free devices behind the wheel.

Mary McGuire

Comments (3)
  1. Thomas Tiger O'Keefe says:

    The penalties in the Senators Bill are not tough enough. If anyone kills someone while on cell phone then they should have the choice ….LIFE in prison or take their eyes so they can never drive again.

  2. Ban cell phone use in cars. You are driving, you should be doing nothing else.

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