Combating distracted driving has been a key public safety priority for years. In January 2010, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood announced a federal ban on texting for commercial truck and bus drivers. In that announcement, the DOT head addressed new research about the impact of texting while driving on roadway safety and the ability of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to enforce the rules. By March 2010, the formal announcement of the new rule was made. Since that time, 32 states, including Minnesota, have enacted bans on texting by all drivers.
Establishing its law in 2008, Minnesota was one of the first states to tackle the issue of distracted driving. Motivation for the Gopher State’s action related to startling data regarding the impact of cell phone use on roadway safety. From 2006 to 2008, 200 fatalities and 60,000 accidents that were attributable to distracted driving occurred in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (MDPS), one of every four statewide car accidents is linked to cell phone/texting use. On average, 70 deaths occur within the state each year as a result of some form of cell phone use.
Criminal penalties attach for those that violate the state law. While federal law violators can be fined up to $2,750 for each offense, Minnesota drivers could be fined up to $300 for each offense. Currently, the legislature is considering more stringent regulations regarding cell phone use by drivers.
Minnesota has worked to enforce its texting ban — law enforcement officers issued 390 tickets in 2009. While some studies had claimed that texting bans were not effective, data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) indicated that Minnesota’s texting bans, as compared with other states, were significantly effective.
Texting While Driving and Larger Vehicles
Texting and driving larger motor vehicles, such as big rigs and motor coaches, is a serious safety issue. In 2009, researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) found that heavy vehicle drivers were 23.2 percent more like to be involved in truck crashes or near-crashes if they texted while operating their vehicles.
Texting bans for commercial truck and bus drivers are not delineated from Minnesota’s current laws, but the state code includes a specific cell phone ban for school bus drivers.
Distracted driving is the leading cause of car accidents in Minnesota; while most incidences are underreported, the state has taken the lead on effectively combating the problem and improving safety.