Motorists were warned that cops would be watching to see if they were texting, but some apparently missed the memo.
Law enforcement officers from across Minnesota issued 972 citations to motorists during a weeklong campaign and enforcement detail earlier this month — with a couple of drivers caught manipulating their phones more than once.
Elk River police cited a 17-year-old boy for using social media on the phone while driving, and then caught the boy doing the same thing two days later. In separate stops, Blue Earth County sheriff’s deputies busted one driver for texting twice in the same day.
A similar effort last year that lasted only six days resulted in 909 citations.
As officers from the 300 agencies participating in the April 11-17 crackdown were looking for drivers who had their eyes off the road, they actually found more drivers (1,563) guilty of not wearing a seat belt than violating state law that prohibits reading, composing or sending text messages or e-mails or going online while in traffic.
The rules apply to drivers sitting at a traffic light or a stop sign or stuck in a traffic jam.
Still, distracted driving is a major problem, said Donna Berger, director of the Office of Traffic Safety.
“Multi-tasking is often praised in our society, but behind the wheel it can be a death sentence,” Berger said. “If you’re looking down at your phone, you may not see that car suddenly stopping ahead of you, that person biking along the side or that oncoming truck because you drifted across the centerline.”
74 deaths in 2015
Nearly 1 in 4 crashes with a death or serious injury were attributed to distracted driving in the past four years, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). Distracted driving crashes were blamed for 74 deaths in 2015 — up from 61 the previous year — and 174 serious injuries.
Between 2011 and 2015, there have been 326 people killed and 1,076 people who suffered life-altering injuries in crashes attributed to distracted driving, the DPS said.
In this year’s enforcement, state troopers in the east-metro district handed out the most tickets with 79, while the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office issued the second-most with 48. Other totals included the State Patrol’s west-metro district with 45; the State Patrol’s Eveleth District, 35; St. Paul police, 34, and Moorhead police and the State Patrol’s Rochester district with 30 each.
Drivers face a $50 fine for the first offense and $225 plus court costs for second and subsequent offenses.