A state trooper stopped a pickup truck driver in northwestern Minnesota last month and wrote him a citation for texting and driving. It was not the driver’s first violation.
The 25-year-old was using his phone to pay the fine for the ticket he got for texting and driving just two weeks before.
Far from an isolated case, repeat offenders make up a growing number of the 1,500 citations to motorists caught texting and driving during a two-week enforcement campaign in April.
“They either don’t know there is a law or don’t care,” said Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the State Patrol. “With DWI, there is the fear of getting arrested, but with texting they are not as worried about getting caught.”
Police have been catching more and more drivers who violate the law, which prohibits reading or composing text messages, e-mails or accessing web-based apps while behind the wheel. Citations have risen from 1,707 six years ago to 7,357 last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
Each April, about 300 agencies participate in a two-week enforcement campaign as part of Distracted Driving Awareness Month. This year, with 1,576 tickets issued, marked the fourth straight year of increases. Last year, when the crackdown was expanded to two weeks, the effort resulted in 1,017 citations.
Nielson said the increase could be attributed to two factors. One, drivers simply are not putting their phones down. Second, police are getting better at spotting offending drivers and asking better questions of those they stop.
Texting has become so widespread that people ticketed during the campaign represented all age groups, she said.
“People feel safe in their vehicle and that they are not part of the problem,” she said.
In Minnesota, distracted driving accounts for one in every four motor vehicle deaths, according to the state Department of Public Safety. From 2012 to 2016, that equated to 59 deaths and 223 serious injuries annually, the DPS said.
Those who have lost loved ones to distracted driving-related crashes are pushing to make it illegal to use hand-held cellphones and electronics while driving. On Wednesday, Georgia became the 16th state with such a law.
Debate on a bill that would outlaw the practice in Minnesota continues at the Legislature. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, launched a poll on his Facebook page (facebook.com/senatorpaulgazelka) to gauge interest in the hands-free bill.
“I want to hear from you! The legislature is considering a bill that would mandate ‘hands-free’ use of cellphones for drivers. Good idea or no?” the poll question reads.
Since the question was posed, more than 1,900 people voted. Others left comments, a majority in support of the bill.
On the House side, the measure was approved by the House Public Safety and Security Committee and awaits action by the House Ways and Means Committee.
Passed or not, Nielson said motorists need to be aware about the dangers of distracted driving.
“The message has not settled in,” she said.