If at first you don’t succeed, try again. That’s what some Minnesota legislators plan to do to pass a law that would make it illegal to hold a cellphone or electronic device while driving.
Momentum has been picking up over the past year for the measure to make Minnesota the 15th state, plus Washington, D.C., to outlaw drivers’ use of hand-held devices. Efforts in 2017 failed despite having widespread support from advocacy groups, law enforcement and Gov. Mark Dayton.
One reason House File 1180 and Senate File 837 didn’t become law was that lawmakers ran out of time. A bigger reason is that some committee chairs didn’t feel there was an appetite for the law.
On Thursday, several families that have lost loved ones in crashes involving a distracted driver and backers of the bills will rally at 10:30 a.m. in the State Capitol rotunda to deliver a strong message to lawmakers.
“They said they didn’t have support from constituents,” said Thomas Goeltz, whose 22-year-old daughter, Megan, and her unborn child were killed in a two-vehicle crash in February 2016 near Stillwater; the other driver was allegedly distracted. “We need the Legislature to see that support, to show them that we are serious.”
Yes, there will be words spoken. Even more poignant, family members plan to carry large photographs of those killed in distracted driving-related crashes for legislators to see, and urge them to take action to curb a problem that now contributes to one in every four motor vehicle deaths.
“Too many people are being killed. It’s become an epidemic,” said Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, the lead sponsor of the Senate bill. “They want something done.”
In Minnesota, it’s illegal for drivers to read, compose or send texts and e-mails, or access the web while their vehicle is in traffic. This includes sitting at a stoplight or being stopped in traffic. The bills do not prevent people from talking on a cellphone while driving. They just don’t allow drivers to hold them, said Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin.
The aim, he said, “is to get their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road where they belong.”
With this being a bonding bill year, both Uglem and Carlson said they plan to introduce their bills early in the session to increase the chances of getting them to the floor for a vote. That starts with Thursday’s rally. “The time to save lives is now,” Uglem said.
38th Street bridge coming down
After a winter lull, work on Interstate 35W between downtown Minneapolis and Crosstown Hwy. 62 cranks up with the demolition of the 38th Street bridge. It will come down March 2-4. Detours will be in place through mid- to late summer.
A bigger disruption comes in June when the I-35W ramps labeled “Downtown Exits” are closed and drivers are sent to 3rd Street. Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) spokesman David Aeikens says the closure “will probably be worse and more challenging” than last summer’s I-94 tie-ups for the Lowry Hill Tunnel remake.
To prepare commuters, MnDOT will hold a “Downtown Employers Event” from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall. Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle and others will lay out the construction schedule and identify alternative transportation options.