January 24, 2019 at 3:28 p.m.

Lawmakers introduce distracted driving laws

Lawmakers introduce distracted driving laws
Lawmakers introduce distracted driving laws

Two different approaches towards reducing distracted driving behavior are making their way through the Minnesota Legislature.

One is a “Hands Free” law that makes it illegal to have a cellphone or device in your hands while you are in traffic, period.  

The other measure allows a device to be in your hands but you can’t be texting.  

At a press availability in St. Paul last week legislators spoke about the bills they want to see enacted. State Representative Bob Dettmer, who represents the southeast corner of Chisago County, appeared on behalf of the no texting bill with enhanced penalty.

The no texting supporters were joined at the microphone by Joanne Ploetz, whose husband John, died in 2017 from injuries sustained in a two vehicle crash at Acacia Trail and County Road 10.  The driver of the second car admitted to failing to stop at a stop sign causing her to enter the main road and crash her vehicle into John’s.  The driver had multiple texting while driving offense tickets on her record.  By the time her mobile phone was seized and searched by electronic forensic investigators it was clean of what may have been useable data.  

Joanne told reporters last week that she prays no other family ever has to go through what the Ploetz family has.  Joanne has been an advocate for tougher distracted driving laws and penalties.  Her comments were backed-up by State Rep. Dettmer, R-Forest Lake.  He is not listed as an author of any of the new distracted driving bills, but he said this bill also includes education about devices as part of drivers’ ed classes.  He added that this approach is not as constricting as the Hands Free standard.

Rep. Dettmer stated, “This is needed because (distracted driving behavior) has become an epidemic.”

The bill increases penalties for being ticketed for texting, with the first offense fine proposed to be $150, second is $250 and third would be $500 and the phone could be seized, for evidence and not returned upon a guilty conviction.

The author of SF 75 is Republican Senator David Osmet.  At press time there was no companion House bill number on record.

As for the Hands Free measure, several business organizations including the MN Chamber of Commerce and Truckers’ Association are in support of calling for no devices unless they are voice-activated, and putting it into a clear and easy to enforce  law.

This law was described at the news conference as providing “prevention”  of distracted driving. It would let law enforcement issue a ticket for any actions where the device is held.  
A state patrol spokesperson said officers complain that the existing (no texting) law is hard to enforce because it only refers to tests created while behind the wheel. The state patrol spokesperson said officers confront an offender and the response they get is that they were checking e mail, or looking at GPS.

DFLer Frank Hornstein, Senate Transportation Committee Chair, is author for Hands Free SF 91 along with Republican Senator Scott Newman.

In 2018 the Hands Free law had 35 co-sponsors but Republican lawmakers voted down action (74-53) to advance the bill in a suspension of rules motion late in the session and it died.

There will be a series of committee hearings reviewing both approaches this week and in coming weeks.  Local legislators should hear from voters on the hand held devices regulations that they want to see in Minnesota.

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