Texting is a chronic problem on Minnesota roads. It's also illegal.
A new law that goes into effect Saturday will raise the fine for drivers who are caught texting for second time and subsequent offenses. First time violators will still be fined $50, but after that they will be slapped with a $275 fine which could rise to well over $300 by the time court costs are tacked on.
The law was passed during the 2015 legislative session with bipartisan support with its goal to curb the dangerous practice.
"We want to send a strong message to drivers in Minnesota that it is completely unacceptable to text and drive," said Rep. Frank Hornstein, (DFL-Minneapolis) who authored the bill with Senator Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan). "These laws do make a difference and do save lives."
In Minnesota, it is illegal for drivers to read, compose or send texts and emails, and access the web while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic. That includes sitting at a stoplight or stop sign. It is also illegal for drivers with a permit or provisional driver’s license to use a cell phone while driving, except for emergencies to call 911.
Since the law banning texting went into effect in 2010, the number citations has risen steadily. Last year 3,200 motorists were ticketed for using their electronic devices while behind the wheel. That is up from 2,189 in 2013 and 847 in 2010, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. It was not immediately known how many of those were repeat offenders as the courts did not previously track that. Under the new law, that will occur, said Dave Boxum, a department spokesman.
In 2014, distracted driving was responsible for 61 deaths. Over the past five years, distracted driving accounted for 19 percent of all traffic deaths.
Matthew Riggs lost his younger brother, David, 20, who was hit by a texting driver in August 2013. On Thursday, he spoke in favor of the law at press conference, and encouraged all drivers to put down their phones.
"He will never get to meet his niece or be an uncle, and that's not fair," Matthew Riggs said. "He still had a lot of life to live and lives to touch. Losing my brother to this crash has made me aware of my own driving habits. This new law is a first step in generating awareness about distracted driving."