AP NEWS

Our view: Still too many distracted drivers in Olmsted County

May 14, 2019

For most of the month of April, law enforcement authorities in Olmsted County took part in a statewide distracted driving enforcement campaign, and the results are not encouraging.

Between April 8 and April 30, 101 motorists in the county were cited by police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers for texting while driving.

Texting and moving vehicles are a deadly combination. From 2013 through 2017, distracted driving contributed to an average of 53 deaths and 216 serious injuries per year. One in five motor vehicle crashes in Minnesota are caused by distracted driving.

We have in the past documented on these pages the fatal accidents caused by distracted driving, the lives cut short, the horrendous cost in human suffering — all because a driver couldn’t wait a couple of minutes to answer a text or look up a sports score. It would be impossible for someone not to be aware of the tragedies caused by looking at a texting device while driving.

Yet, if there are still more than 100 citations for texting while driving during one three-week period, imagine how many people are violating the law over the course of a year — and that’s just in Olmsted County.

In other words, we have not had much success, despite all the information available, of curing ourselves of this dangerous habit. What, exactly will it take?

Perhaps the state’s new hands-free cell phone law, which forbids holding a phone in your hands while driving, will finally make a difference.

Under the new law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, phones can be used only in a hands-free mode. You can only have a phone in your hands to make an emergency call.

Basically, unless your phone is connected to hands-free technology, it will be off-limits while your vehicle is in operation. The law does not allow you to pick up your phone even while stopped in traffic or at a red light.

All of that becomes effective on Aug. 1. Until then, the state already has a law on the books that makes it illegal for drivers to send texts and emails, access or browse the internet, even while sitting at a stoplight. Violate that law, get pulled over by a cop, and you’ll face a charge of distracted driving.

Ever been frustrated when the car ahead of you doesn’t move when the light turns green because the driver is texting on their phone? It’s not simply an annoyance. It is a dangerous situation with potentially tragic consequences.

We’re glad law enforcement agencies made an extra effort to crack down on distracted drivers during April. We just wish they hadn’t had so many reasons to do so.