Cracking Down on Distracted Drivers in Minnesota

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety

If you use your mobile device while driving, there's some bad news for you…you're busted.

The reason for this warning has been a step-up of enforcement on the use of mobile devices – from regular cell phones to the latest smart phone devices – aimed against the elimination of distracted driving. Currently, this is the biggest campaign towards creating a safer environment on the roads.

Some might say that our public safety agencies have better things to do. In essence, they do – ensuring a safe environment for all drivers. As much as some of us would rather not deal with state, county and municipal authorities when we're out and about, their job is to protect us from other motorists who could care less about the law.

On April 19, Minnesota's Department of Public Safety began a state-wide step-up on distracted driving enforcement. The DPS presented a preliminary set of statistics last week based on reports from 142 agencies state-wide. On that day, 97 citations were made due to motorists who were texting while driving. In all, 2,149 stops were made state-wide as part of the enforcement step-up. In comparison, only 3.5 citations per day for violations of texting while driving were given out last year.

In Minnesota, statute 169.475 states that "no person may operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device to compose, read, or send an electronic message, when the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic." It is that plain and simple. There are exceptions to the law. If you use a voice-activated or hands-free connection, make a call through a wireless network, connect with an emergency line to report an accident, medical emergency or witness some criminal activity, you are indeed legal under this statute.

Is this crack down on distracted drivers working? If you are on the side of eradicating the use of any mobile device while operating a motor vehicle, then this seems like a small victory with more to come. If you were one of those who were pulled over as part of this crack down, I empathize with you. Believe me, I understand the need to stay connected to the world at every turn. Our lives are busy enough and the want for instant communication and connectivity has seeped into our consciousness.

Automobile manufacturers are doing their best to make our connected lives easier. I, for one, have no qualms connecting my Blackberry with the Bluetooth connection in a vehicle. However, there are now some stipulations made by manufacturers to not use my mobile device for texting or use of social media while I am driving. For the record, I do my best to comply with these stipulations when I drive a review vehicle.

However, I pondered whether it made a difference if someone is using their mobile device through a hands-free Bluetooth connection so they would not have to use the phone itself to make calls. The spokesperson from the DPS stated that, "in reality, it's the conversation that pulls a driver's attention/focus off the road — not so much the hands issue."

There are studies that support the above statement. The Minnesota DPS cited a study from the University of Utah that pointed out in using a mobile phone while driving – regardless of whether you use a hands-free connection or not –"delays a driver's reactions as much as having an alcohol-concentration level of .08 percent." Another study by the Carnegie Mellon Institute also stated that using a mobile phone while driving "reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent."

All of this is quite sobering. It is true, however, in the eyes of the public safety agencies. The Minnesota DPS continued by stating that "many drivers may say talking on the phone is same as talking to passenger. However, the difference is a passenger can be aware of the driving situation and serve as a look-out for hazards."

Though it is legal in Minnesota to use a hands-free device for communication, the point the DPS is making is for us to understand the consequences by our want of connectivity. We think we are good drivers. We believe we can balance our driving ability with the use of technology while on the road. Now, we're faced with these arguments on whether we should simply just shut down our cherished mobile devices and just concentrate on the job at hand – getting to your destination safely.

Why should we consider all of this before connecting our phones to the vehicle's Bluetooth connection? The spokesperson from the Minnesota DPS summed it all up by stating that "the challenge is to change the driver culture to encourage motorists to pay attention and drive focused — and stress to drivers that they must take the task of driving seriously and not let other distractions push the task of driving to the 'back seat.'"

Yet, the technology to receive and regurgitate your texts, your Facebook updates and your tweets are available now. Though public safety agencies would rather we not engage with social media-based conversations, they would instead have us reconsider those habits. Certainly it is hard to break our habits, but with enforcement on the rise – the incentive is there to change our behavior to comply with the law. Then, we can get to the point where our driving takes a higher priority than some argument with your significant other or some other unnecessary conversation via text or phone.

Something to think about…

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.