Prosecutors would be able to charge inattentive drivers who harm or kill other drivers with more serious crimes under a measure on its way to the House floor.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington gives prosecutors the option to charge negligent drivers with gross misdemeanors if they cause a crash resulting in serious injury or death that do not involve alcohol. Under current law, prosecutors may only charge drivers with misdemeanors or felonies, often reverting to misdemeanors when the punishment does not fit the crime. The result is families devastated by loss, while the drivers walk away with little more than community service.
Minnesotans for Safe Driving pointed out that alcohol and drugs account for just a third of fatalities in Minnesota, but that means that other activities like eating, putting on makeup or texting are making up for the other two-thirds of crashes.
Cathy Ciaciura told the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy Committee Wednesday that her 28-year-old son, Lance, was killed by a distracted driver in 2003 while riding his motorcycle home from work. He left behind a wife who was nine months pregnant. The daughter he never met is now 12.
Ciaciura said the driver was charged with several misdemeanors, with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail. He ended up doing a week in the workhouse after violating his probation, she said, and has since committed other traffic offenses.
“It’s just not right,” Ciaciura said. “We need to change the public perception that there are not serious consequences for breaking traffic regulations that lead to crashes. These are not accidents; they can be avoided.”
Rep. Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato, said his own brother, Tom Considine of Crosby, was killed in an October car accident near Aitkin after a distracted driver blew through a stop sign and broadsided his SUV. He said his brother leaves behind a wife with some health problems, and will never meet his grandkids. The driver faced little consequence, he said.
“When I called up to Aitkin and was told this gentleman was charged with two misdemeanors, I about went through the roof,” Considine said.
Before the bill cleared the committee unanimously, Garofalo reminded them that the penalty for maiming or killing someone in a non-alcohol related crash is the same as striking a road sign.
“Right now the message is that human life is valuable as a street sign,” he said.