St. Paul police on Saturday held an auto care clinic in which the department marked catalytic converters with brightly colored paint to make them less appealing to thieves.

The Police Department staged the event after seeing a sharp increase in thefts of the pollution-control devices, which are coated with precious metals like palladium, rhodium and platinum. There have been 560 thefts reported this year, according to the department.

More than 1,000 people snapped up all available slots within hours after the event in the parking lot of Allianz Field was announced last Monday, and another 3,000 were placed on a waiting list, said spokesman Steve Linders. He said the demand didn't surprise him.

"They're tired of having the catalytic converters stolen," Linders said, noting the department will schedule another clinic "in the near future."

Several Drive readers wondered if it can be a do-it-yourself job.

"What kind of paint will work for this? Does it have to be heat resistant?" Drive reader Janet asked in an e-mail. "I think many could mark their catalytic converters themselves or ask their mechanics."

Be careful crawling under your car, but yes, it is a job you can do in your own driveway or garage. All that is needed is a generous amount of bright, high-temperature (1,300- to 2,000-degree Fahrenheit) automotive exhaust spray paint. It's available from shops selling auto supplies and from online retailers.

"Many scrap yards won't purchase marked catalytic converters," Linders said.

Watching for distracted drivers

Law enforcement statewide is looking for distracted drivers, particularly those who are using their phones while behind the wheel, in a monthlong enforcement campaign that runs through April 30.

A hands-free law that went into effect in August 2019 prohibits drivers from holding a phone, even if they are not talking, texting or surfing the web. Last year, nearly 19,800 drivers were ticketed for failing to comply with the law. One was a driver's education instructor in St. Paul who took a call from one of his students.

"Troopers continue to see drivers across the state using cellphones that are not in hands-free mode," said Lt. Gordon Shank with the Minnesota State Patrol. "Drivers are telling troopers that they are aware of hands-free laws but have a hard time breaking habits. We remind people that if they must use their phone while driving, it needs to be hands-free."

Distracted driving was a factor in crashes leading to 2,612 injuries and 29 deaths last year, the Department of Public Safety said.

To review: The hands-free law allows drivers to use their cellphones to make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts and get directions, but only by voice commands or single-touch activation without holding the phone. Multiple touches and scrolling are illegal. Video streaming, gaming and using apps for anything other than navigation also are against the law.

Drivers can have phones legally mounted on the windshield or dashboard, placed on the passenger seat and even tucked into a head wrap or stocking cap provided the device does not block their vision.

Distracted driving isn't limited to phone use. Being lost in thought, changing music, reaching for something on the floor or disciplining a child in the back seat "are all real distractions," the DPS said.

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