Read this text: Cops just ticketed you

  • Updated: April 19, 2012 - 11:31 PM

St. Paul police officer Jeremy Ellison issued 11 citations to drivers on their cellphones as they moved slowly in traffic in St. Paul on Thursday.

Some were checking e-mails; others were texting. Ellison said he caught one girl on a social networking site and another using her phone to enter information for Google Maps.

"It's almost comical to watch, because their heads are looking down and they are driving straight towards a stopped car and they have no clue what they're doing," he said after finishing his shift as part of a statewide crackdown on distracted driving.

Nearly 400 city and county law enforcement agencies stepped up their enforcement efforts Thursday, thanks to a $50,000 federal grant.

Distracted driving contributes to a quarter of all crashes in the state each year, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

It is illegal for drivers in Minnesota to read, compose or send texts or e-mails or access the Web on a wireless device while their vehicle is in traffic -- whether in motion, stopped at a traffic light or stuck in a traffic jam.

Drivers under 18 are barred from using a cellphone at any time.

Since Minnesota's texting law was enacted in August 2008, the number of citations given out each year has increased, from 294 tickets in 2009 to 784 tickets last year.

Citing a University of Utah study, the Department of Public Safety pointed out that texting drivers take their eyes off the road for up to 4.6 out of every six seconds -- traveling the length of a football field without looking up when traveling 55 miles per hour.

In addition to electronic devices, the department pointed out that distracted driving can also include reaching for items, fiddling with the radio or other controls, eating and drinking in the car, grooming and trying to quiet rowdy passengers.

PAM LOUWAGIE AND Nicole Norfleet

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