Focus on “distracted driving”


During a joint meeting of House and Senate transportation policy divisions, legislators heard testimony about the need for expanded laws regarding distracted drivers. (Watch the meeting.)

In 2008, Minnesota was the third of 19 states to ban texting while driving, but lawmakers did not totally ban cell phone use in moving vehicles, an issue that could be addressed later during this session.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for persons age 1 to 35, according to the National Safety Council. And 28 percent of accidents are caused by drivers distracted when using their phones, said David Teater, the council’s senior director of transportation initiatives.

Teater urged lawmakers to examine the cognitive science, as well as the visual and mechanical effects of driving distractions. Cognitive science focuses on whether a person’s mind is on driving while performing other tasks. Tests have shown a 37 percent drop in brain activity when drivers multi-task, he said.

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mlps) said auto shows are revealing new technology that includes Internet access on vehicle dashboards.

An estimated 11 percent of all drivers are on their cell phone at any given time, said Teater, whose son was struck and killed by a driver using her cell phone.

Sen. Michael Jungbauer (R-East Bethel) said he was “t-boned” by a driver using a cell phone last summer and that law enforcement was unable to obtain the driver’s cell phone records for prosecution. The action requires a subpoena, which need to be based on the suspicion of illegal or criminal activity.

Representatives from wireless phone companies and the trucking industry praised legislators for implementing the 2008 ban on texting while driving but said more discussion is needed before potentially expanding the law to include a complete ban on cell phone use while driving.