Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel at all times. That's the advice public safety officials have repeated over and over and here is the reason why.
Hazards can appear at any moment and drivers need to be ready to take evasive action just as a motorist in southern Minnesota had to do when a suspected distracted driver coming from the opposite direction crossed the center lane on a two-lane highway and nearly hit him.
The driver captured the harrowing moment on his dashcam and sent the video to the State Patrol.
The man who avoided a head-on crash was driving on Hwy. 63 between Rochester and Millville on Saturday when minivan came around a curve, crossed the centerline and hit the rumble strips in the opposite lane before returning to the proper lane. The motorist who provided the video was able to get out of the way, but it was a close call.
"He sent us the footage to help people realize how important it is to always be focused behind the wheel," the State Patrol said.
Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of crashes on Minnesota roads, accounting for one in four wrecks, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said. The Office of Traffic of Safety says at least 70 deaths and 350 serious crashes each year can be attributed to drivers who are not paying attention. And, officials say, those numbers are likely low as law enforcement isn't always able to determine if distraction plays a role in a crash.
In April, more than 1,000 motorists were ticketed for texting and illegally using their phones while driving during a two-week distracted driving crackdown in April. Last year, police issued more than 6,000 tickets to drivers for texting and driving, state records show.
It is illegal in Minnesota for drivers to read, compose or send texts and e-mails, or go online while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic. This includes sitting at a stoplight, stop sign or while stopped in traffic. It also is illegal for drivers with a permit or provisional driver’s license to use a cellphone while driving, except for emergencies to call 911. Violators get a $50 fine, plus court fees, for the first offense. They’ll pay an additional $225 fine (for a total of $275), plus court fees, for second and subsequent violations.
Phone use is often associated with distracted driving, but motorists can lose focus doing other activities, such as tuning the radio, programming navigation devices, eating or turning around to attend to children or passengers in the back seat. In April's crackdown on distracted driving, a 52-year-old man in St. Paul holding a chicken in his lap was cited when he failed to stop for three pedestrians in a crosswalk with his feathered friend with him behind the wheel.
"Dozens of people are killed or injured each year in Minnesota in distracted driving crashes. No distraction is worth your life — or someone else’s," the patrol said.