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Law enforcement's eyes are watching for motorists who text and drive

Posted by: Tim Harlow Updated: April 10, 2014 - 1:24 PM

It's illegal to read, compose and send text messages or emails while driving, and for the next 10 days, law enforcement from more than 400 agencies across Minnesota will be looking for those who do.

From Friday through April 20, police in some jurisdictions will set up saturation points like they do to catch drunk drivers and those don't wear seat belt. Others will ride in school buses and other large profile vehicles that will allow them to peer down into vehicles to help them identify those who are illegally using their phones or engaging in other dangerous behaviors while behind the wheel.

Last year, police statewide wrote more than 2,180 citations accompanied by $130 fines to motorists caught texting while driving, a number that has steadily risen since a law banning the practice went into effect in 2008, the Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety said.

April has been designated as Distracted Driving Awareness month, and the state's stepped-up enforcement coincides with a national effort that includes radio and TV spots and a web campaign to draw attention to the issue .

"The goal of this campaign is to get everyone to get their hands off cell phones and their eyes and minds on the road," said Donna Berger, director of the Office of Traffic Safety.

Distracted driving is a contributing factor in about 25 percent of crashes on state roads. Last year, 68 people died and another 8,038 were injured in the 17,598 crashes attributed to inattentive drivers, state figures show.

"Distracted driving is unsafe and irresponsible," said Major Darrell Huggett of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. "No text or email is worth putting your life or other lives at risk."

Police who gathered at the State Patrol's Golden Valley headquarters Thursday to announce the enhanced enforcement encouraged motorists to hand over their phones to a passenger who can be a designated texter, or simply turn them off.

"We need your help," Huggett said. "Law enforcement alone can't eliminate the problem."

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