Patience seems to be in short supply on a dangerous stretch of Hwy. 12, where officers from West Hennepin Public Safety are all about making the road safer.

Last year the department and others that comprise the Highway 12 Safety Coalition got the Minnesota Department of Transportation to build a concrete median to separate traffic between County Road 112 and County Road 6 in the Wayzata and Orono area. The 3-mile-long barrier was installed as recommended in the U.S. 12 Road Safety Audit in the wake of a high number of crossover crashes, including six fatal wrecks since 2011.

At the same time, the department serving Maple Plain and Independence got MnDOT to install tiny blue lights on semaphores at three interchanges farther to the west at Baker Park Road, County Road 92 and County Line Road to combat another menacing problem: motorists running red lights.

The department posted videos on its Facebook page last week showing a side hauler roaring through an intersection after the traffic light turned red. In another, a driver tired of waiting for a red light pulled onto a grassy median, passed three other waiting cars and went merrily on his or her way. In both cases, the drivers were ticketed.

That’s where the blue “confirmation lights,” as Sgt. Rick Denneson calls them, come into play. When a traffic signal turns red, a blue light facing the opposite direction comes on. That allows an officer sitting downstream of the intersection to see that a driver ran the light.

It’s one more tool officers parked at the intersections are using to nab violators, of which there have been plenty. When his shift starts at 4 p.m. on weekdays, Denneson said, “I can write four to five tickets, good tickets, not cheap or thin tickets. I am confident they will stand up in court,” he said.

Denneson said studies have shown that adding blue lights reduces crashes because of increased enforcement. They also enhance the perception that the intersection is being monitored even if law enforcement is not present. The blue lights and extra enforcement haven’t stopped red-light runners, he said, but “it has brought attention to the problem.”

Legally texting behind the wheel

State law is clear that it is illegal in Minnesota for drivers to read, compose or send texts and e-mails, or go online while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic. This includes sitting at a stoplight, stop sign or while stopped in traffic.

Research from the National Safety Council shows that texting is the most dangerous cellphone-related task as it involves our eyes, hands and attention, three things that need to be focused on driving. Yet drivers continue to tap away on their phones. That had one Drive reader wondering if it is ever legal to be behind the wheel and read or send a text message.

“I recently read in a small local paper that even if I pull over and stop completely, I cannot text if I’m the driver,” the reader wrote in an e-mail. “I understand that there are places we are not allowed to stop like on the freeway, but how about a city street that has parking permitted? Is there any instance where a driver in a stopped vehicle can text?”

Yes there is, said Sgt. Mike Glassberg of the Hopkins Police Department. “I can’t imagine issuing someone a citation for pulling over on a side street, where parking is allowed, to text. That is actually what we instruct drivers to do,” he said.


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