by Conrad deFiebre | July 20, 2009 • Last winter, a young friend driving to California encountered an ice storm on Interstate 80 in Iowa that left dozens of vehicles in the ditches. He reported this in text messages liberally sprinkled with OMGs. “Is he texting while he’s driving on ice?” I asked my wife, the text recipient (I’m a dinosaur who doesn’t carry a cell phone). “Tell him to stop that! Immediately!”
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For years, I’ve been similarly scolding the Minnesota body politic over the same sort of foolishness when it comes to traffic safety. We live in the last state in the union to adopt a tighter standard for drunken driving, one that spent more than two decades of foot-dragging before enacting sensible seat belt and child restraint laws this year.
For these failings, I’ve branded our state more libertarian than liberal, a place that seemingly values the freedom to be stupid behind the wheel more than policies proven to cut the human and economic waste of traffic crashes. Well, I’ve been pleasantly surprised lately to learn that Minnesota has the nation’s toughest restrictions on texting and cell-phone use while driving.
These and other technological distractions from the serious business of piloting a multi-ton vehicle through traffic have been conclusively demonstrated to increase accident risks sharply. But most states have done little or nothing to address the problem.
Minnesota, however, is among a minority of states that have outlawed texting by all drivers and mobile phoning by novices and school bus drivers. It hasn’t required hands-free cell phones in cars as a few states have, but research has shown that doesn’t help much. It’s the brain, not the hand, that loses track of the road when drivers try to multitask. Still, no state has prohibited phoning while driving for everyone, and it’s become so engrained in our culture that a ban is unlikely anytime soon.
Fortunately, Minnesota and a few other states have acted to head off widespread texting on the road. But it turns out that my friend’s ill-advised messaging was perfectly legal in Iowa, as well as 35 other states. Legal, but really dumb.
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