Should a driver be involved in a crash that kills or injures another person and was using a cellphone at the time be charged with criminal vehicular operation?
State Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, thinks so. He has introduced a bill that would expand the crimes of criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation for drivers involved in a crashes that cause death or harm to others if they were using hands-held phones or electronic devices. Basically, that is a low-level felony.
The bill will be heard at by the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee at 10:15 a.m. Thursday.
The issue of distracted driving has been a hot topic in recent weeks after a trucker using a hand-held cellphone smashed into the back of vehicle stopped at a red light at Lake Elmo Avenue on Hwy. 36 and killed that driver.
Under current state sentencing guidelines, the trucker, Samuel Hicks, 28, of Independence, Wis., could up to four years in prison if convicted.
Under Franke's bill, penalties for death could rise to up to 10 years or to payment of a fine of not more than $20,000, or both.
A separate bill moving through the legislature would make it illegal to hold a cellphone or other electronic device while driving.If it becomes law, fines would be $50 for the first offense and $225 plus court costs for subsequent offenses, the same scale that is used to punish drivers who are caught texting while behind the wheel.