At least one Minnesota legislator believes the penalties for distracted driving are too lenient, and he plans to make a push to strengthen the law in the near future.
Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, announced last week that he wants to increase penalties for individuals who cause injury or death while driving distracted. He wants the penalties to be similar in nature to the penalties assessed to drunk drivers who cause injury or death.
“This problem continues to seem like it grows,” Osmek said. Increasing the penalties would “get people to pay for the damage they are doing to society and to other people’s families.”
Distracted Driving in Minnesota
One of the main reasons Osmek wants to increase penalties is because the current penalties don’t seem to be deterring distracted drivers. Last year, 7,357 drivers were cited for texting and driving in Minnesota, which represented a 23 percent increase from 2016. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety also stated that distracted driving has now become the fourth most common cause of serious traffic injuries or death, behind speeding, failing to wear a seat belt and driving under the influence.
“We need to change the culture around distracted driving and make it not be OK for people to do this,” said Attorney General Lori Swanson, who previously proposed several measures to toughen the state’s distracted driving laws. “We should apply some of the successful drunken driving reform measures to distracted driving, which has become an epidemic on the roads.”
Minnesota had previously attempted to pass legislation that would forbid drivers from using handheld phones or electronic devices while driving, but it failed in the Legislature this year. Osmek believes a total ban isn’t necessary, but increasing the penalties is one change that should be considered.
“I don’t think [law-abiding people] should have their rights and their freedoms impinged upon by people who are notoriously bad with texting or just simply not paying attention,” Osmek said. “The first step is to increase the penalties and get people’s attention.”
The current penalty for a first offense texting while driving citation is $50, plus court fees. Subsequent violations jump up to $225 plus court fees, but Osmek doesn’t believe that’s harsh enough. He wants fines for subsequent texting while driving violations to be increased to $750.
Osmek concluded by saying that nobody intends to kill another person when they knowingly get behind the wheel while drunk, and the same can be said for drivers who knowingly take their eyes off the rode to compose a text. Such, the penalties should be similar in nature.
“When you are driving and using your cellphone, there is no intent in running people over and killing people, but that doesn’t excuse you from the fact that you are doing something that is dangerous,” Osmek said. “If you kill someone with a DUI, we know the penalties … you are going to jail for a significant amount of time. This legislation is on par, and I think it fits the crime.”