Minneota Police Chief Bill Bolt didn’t know when he wrote Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson that he’d be invited to the state capitol to help create reform for distracted driving. His contact with the attorney general grew out of problems and potential safety issues from distracted drivers.
As a result, Attorney General Swanson issued a report calling on state policy makers to enact legislation to regulate hands-free only cell phone use while driving — plus an increase in penalties for texting while driving.
And one of the people she called on to help with cause was Chief Bolt. “The meeting consisted of approximately 15 people who are passionate about distracted driving.
“Several in attendance had lost loved ones due to fatal vehicle collisions caused by texting and driving and other forms of distraction,” said Chief Bolt.
The attorney general’s report included the “suspension of the driver’s licenses of repeat offenders.”
“The report made several recommendations that will be shared with legislators in hope of making the law easier to enforce with the goal of changing driving behaviors,” said Chief Bolt.
“The most significant recommendation was to change the law so that all cell phone use by a driver would be hands free,” said the police chief.
“I completely support this purposed change and look forward to seeing this presented to the state legislative body at the first opportunity.”
“We need to change the culture around distracted driving and make it not be okay for people to do this,” said the attorney general.
“Drunken driving, which was once largely condoned, is now stigmatized. We should apply some of the successful drunken driving reform measures to distracted driving, which has become an epidemic on the roads,” said Swanson.
The attorney general called distracted driving, “an epidemic.”
She called on police, business and labor groups and families who lost loved ones to distracted driving. Findings based on a an assessment of how other states have handled the issue examined texting while driving charges in Minnesota.
Attorney General Swanson said the problem is not limited to the youngest drivers.
In 2017, drivers age 16-19 represented 22 percent of drivers but 47 percent of texting while driving charges; drivers age 30-49 represented 33 percent of drivers but 42 percent of texting while driving charges.
Swanson said her office handled over 15,000 driver’s license revocation cases after impaired driving arrests in the last three years. After studying other states, she made the following recommendations:
•Prohibit handheld cell phones while driving.
•Increase penalties for texting while driving.
•Suspend licenses for repeat offenders.
•Provide more funding for public awareness. One government study estimates that at any given moment during daylight hours, approximately 481,000 drivers are handling a cell phone while driving.
The National Safety Council estimates that 1.5 million vehicle accidents occur each year in the United States as a result of texting and other forms of distracted driving.
Texting drivers have a 23 percent greater chance of being in an accident.
Chief Bolt, who was perhaps the officer from the smallest committee at the meeting, indicated, “Join me by contacting your state representatives and voicing your support for this live saving proposal.”
After all, distracted driving results in over 3,000 deaths and 400,000 injuries annually in the United States.
In Minnesota, there are more than 50 deaths each year in proven cases of distracted driving.
From 2013 to 2017, 265 people were killed in Minnesota and 1,080 suffered serious injury in distracted driving crashes.