Drivers trading stocks on their phones, using iPads to change passwords and cleverly using a key fob as a remote to play Pokémon Go while rolling down the road. Law enforcement saw it all Monday, the first day of a statewide crackdown on distracted driving.
Even motorists who knew police from 300 agencies were out looking for drivers illegally interacting with electronic devices could not — or would not — set them down.
“Texting is a bad habit,” a 38-year-old Forest Lake man told the officer who wrote him a ticket on Monday, according the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He was caught just hours into the enforcement detail that coincides with April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The campaign runs through April 22.
State law prohibits drivers from using an electronic device to read or compose an e-mail or access the internet while behind the wheel. This includes while sitting at a traffic light.
A 21-year-old man in Ramsey County trying to make money ended up shelling it out instead when he was caught in St. Paul.
“I’m not going to lie, I was trading stocks,” the driver told the deputy who wrote him a ticket for violating
Over the past six years, the number of distracted driving citations issued in Minnesota for texting and driving has risen from 1,707 in 2012 to 7,357 last year. From 2016 to 2017, the number of texting-while-driving citations jumped 23 percent, the Department of Public Safety said.
Texting is not all that’s going on in the driver’s seat. Posting to social media has fast become another risky behavior. In one case Monday, police said a woman with only an instructional permit and two babies in the back seat was pulled over for driving while using the app Snapchat.
There is little disagreement that even drivers recognize that distraction increases their risk for crashing. They also fear getting hit by other drivers whose eyes and minds are not focused on driving.
A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that distracted drivers are motorists’ top concern on the roads, even worse than aggressive driving, drunken driving and drivers high on drugs. It even outpaced the concern over congestion.
Nearly 88 percent of motorists say distracted driving is worse than it was three years ago. More than 58 percent say drivers talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel is a serious threat to their personal safety and 78 percent believe that texting is a significant danger, the study found.
Nearly half of drivers admit to talking on a hand-held cellphone while motoring and 35 percent say they have sent a text or e-mail message, the survey found.
Distracted driving is attributed to one in five crashes in Minnesota and contributes to an average of 59 deaths each year, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said.
Armed with those stats, lawmakers are still considering passing a bill that would make it illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving. If it passes, Minnesota would become the 17th state to have such a law.
In the meantime, for the next two weeks state law enforcers will be watching for — and catching — drivers who are not paying attention. That includes the sneaky 24-year-old driver who tried to use his knees to drive while using his iPad to reset passwords. Not sneaky enough; police cited him.
Tickets for the first offense run $50 plus court costs. Second and subsequent offenses are $225 plus court costs.