MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers Tuesday took a major step toward banning hand-held cellphones while driving.

A House committee voted to ban the devices after emotional testimony from families of victims killed by distracted drivers.

The Minnesota State Patrol says one in four crashes, and one in five traffic fatalities, are caused by distracted drivers.

Distracted driving is the fastest growing cause of serious injury and death on Minnesota roads. And frustrated families of the dead are demanding to know why nothing has been done to stop it.

“My brother’s life was worth more than someone’s choice to get distracted for 30 seconds! His life was worth more than that!” said Danielle Wishard-Tudor. “And the punishment of a misdemeanor for careless driving was his life! His entire life!”

The bill makes it illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving, including initiating or taking a call, and viewing or listening to video content. The bill’s author, Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Frank Hornstein, calls it “an epidemic.”

Danielle Wishard-Tudor (credit: CBS)

“If we just save one life through passage of this bill, we will have done our jobs,” said Hornstein.

Grieving loved ones held up pictures of their brothers, fathers, sisters, daughters, children. Thomas Goeltz says his granddaughter asked him to bring home her mother when he took an airplane trip.

“You know what she said to me shortly after her mother died? She said, ‘Papa, don’t wave. When you’re in the clouds, just bring Mama back down for me,’” Goeltz said. “What do you say to a 3 year old at that time?”

The state patrol says distracted driving crashes are up 30 percent since 2017. And family members say hundreds of Minnesotans have been killed by distracted drivers since the legislature began debating it.

“And I label it as selfish when you think about it. Most of us go through the day and there is only one thing that we do that has the potential to kill someone, and that is drive,” said Greg Lavallee, whose son was killed by a distracted driver.

The bill does not ban the use of cellphones while driving, only hand-held cellphones. It would still allow hands-free devices, like voice-activated phones or one-touch capability. Insurance experts say that alone could cut distracted driving deaths by as much as 20 percent.

Pat Kessler

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