Drivers caught texting or using electronic devices illegally would pay substantially stiffer fines under a last-minute measure being floated at the State Capitol.
Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, is putting forth a bill to raise the penalties for distracted drivers after a measure that would have prohibited drivers from using handheld electronic devices failed to reach the floor.
The new bill calling for fines of $175 for the first offense, $350 for the second offense and $700 for third and subsequent offenses is “the only way to get [the issue] to the floor,” Uglem said.
Currently, fines for texting and driving are $50 for the first offense and $225 for subsequent offenses. Court costs make the actual total higher.
Uglem was the chief author of the bill that would have made Minnesota the 17th state to require drivers to use only hands-free devices.
He’s now amending that bill, drawing largely on a measure offered this session by Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, that called for the higher fines.
Uglem said he believes he has enough votes to get the bill passed, if it reaches the floor before the session ends on Monday. That decision is up to House leadership, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Advocates say they welcome the higher penalties, but said they are not a substitute for a hands-free law.
“This is a good accompaniment to that, but this is not a bill that will save lives on Minnesota roads,” said Greg Tikalsky, an outspoken supporter of the hands-free bill. His father was killed by a distracted driver in 2015.
“We have irrefutable evidence that hands-free saves lives,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council.
“We are not enthused, and this is not what we wanted,” Aasen said. “Our mission is all about preventing unintentional injuries, and our real hope was to move to the prevention side of the equation.”
Uglem, who said some of his colleagues were concerned that a hands-free law would infringe on their personal rights, said he was “very disappointed” in Republican leadership for not allowing a vote on the bill.
Of the new amended bill, “it’s a compromise,” Uglem said.