It’s illegal to read, compose and send text messages or e-mails while driving, and for the next 10 days, law enforcement from more than 400 Minnesota agencies will join forces to catch 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 people who don’t wear seat belts. Others will ride in school buses and other high-riding vehicles that will allow them to peer down into vehicles and see if people are illegally using their phones or engaging in other dangerous behavior behind the wheel.
Last year, police statewide wrote more than 2,180 citations accompanied by $130 fines to drivers caught texting. That number 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 cellphones 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.
“No text or e-mail is worth putting your life or other lives at risk,” said Major Darrell Huggett of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.
Police who gathered at the State Patrol’s Golden Valley headquarters Thursday to announce the enhanced enforcement campaign encouraged motorists to hand 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.”