Handheld phones aren’t the only driving distraction

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Put down the phone and drive.

That’s now the law in Minnesota. The Legislature passed and Gov. Tim Walz signed the bipartisan hands-free bill that bans the use of handheld cell phones. The measure aims to reduce distracted-driving crashes. 

The bill requires drivers to be hands-free, but allows use of voice-activated command calls and other functions such as GPS navigation and music applications.

Reps. Lisa Demuth and Tim O’Driscoll and Sen. Jeff Howe voted in favor of the measure, which will become law Aug. 1. Minnesota joins 16 other states and Washington, D.C., in banning handheld-cell-phone use while driving.

The law does not apply to drivers outside of traffic or in emergency situations, and expands on current statutes that ban texting, using email and browsing social media while driving.

The law will go a long way toward reducing distracted driving crashes, injuries and deaths, but phones aren’t the only way drivers are distracted.

We’ve all seen drivers trying to read while zooming down the freeway or checking their looks in the mirror while waiting at a stop light.

How many of us have been distracted by a conversation with passengers instead of concentrating on the road ahead?

Have you fiddled with the radio instead of keeping hands on the steering wheel?

How often have you looked sideways at a billboard and when your eyes return to the road, you see the car ahead is closer than it appeared seconds before?

And then there are smokers. Unfortunately, the Clean Indoor Air Act doesn’t apply to trying to light a cigarette behind the wheel.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s yearly Crash Facts report, young drivers, ages 15-19, are the most likely to be distracted.

Law enforcement is also focusing on distracted-driving enforcement this month.

The Stearns-Benton Area Toward-Zero-Deaths Coalition is concentrating on distracted driving enforcement now through April 30.

According to the coalition, distracted driving-related crashes claim an average of 53 lives each year in Minnesota.

Other statistics point to the persistent distracted driving dangers. The coalition shared these statistics:

• Continuing a six-year trend, texting citations climbed 30 percent from 2017 to 2018.

• Distracted driving contributes to one in five crashes in Minnesota.

• During the 2018 distracted-driving extra-enforcement campaign, law enforcement cited 1,576 people for texting and driving.

• In addition to the 53 deaths, distracted driving contributed to an average of 216 serious injuries each year from 2013 to 2017.

There is some good news in the statistics. While texting and driving citations are up, deaths and injuries from distracted driving in general are going down.

The law will soon demand you put down the phone and drive or you could be fined $300.

But any behavior that takes the driver’s attention away from the road ahead can lead to tragedy.

So put down the phone, but also put down the burrito, book, MP3 player and curb the urge to chat with friends and just drive.

Author: Mike Knaak

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