AG Lori Swanson Calls for Distracted Driving Reforms

October 26, 2018 06:55 PM

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson Friday issued a report calling on state lawmakers to enact legislation meant to stiffen punishments for distracted driving.

Swanson spoke at an event at the State Capitol that also included families of victims of distracted driving, members of law enforcement and others.


RELATED: Families of Distracted Driving Victims Express Anger at Legislative Leaders

According to a release, among the measures Swanson is calling for include a law prohibiting the use of handheld cellphones while driving, increasing the fine for texting while driving, suspending the driver's licenses of repeat offenders and increasing funding for promoting public awareness of the issue.

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“We need to change the culture around distracted driving and make it not be okay for people to do this," Swanson said in a statement. "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."

RELATED: State Lawmakers Gut Tougher Distracted Driving Bills While Increasing Fines for Texting and Driving

Swanson's recommendation would make Minnesota the 17th state to prohibit the use of handheld cellphones by drivers. It's a measure law enforcement members also say is needed.

"We'd like to simplify it and if the cellphone is in their hand, that's a violation,” Wayzata Police Chief Mike Risvold said.

Swanson also recommends increasing the fine for a first-time texting-while-driving offense from $50 to $175, as well as increasing fines for repeat offenders by using a graduated schedule.

The release cited Maine as a state that requires the imposition of 30, 60 and 90 day suspensions of driver's licenses for second, third and fourth-time distracted driving offenses, and suggests Minnesota should follow that model.

Lawmakers have been trying for nearly two decades to get a hands-free law on the books here in Minnesota. Rep. Tony Sertich introduced the first bill that would have required cell phones to be used hands-free in vehicles back in 2001. 

Since then, hands-free legislation has failed eleven different times. Rep. Mark Uglem's bill in 2018 made it the furthest but if supporters want to bring it back in 2019 they'll have to find a new author as Uglem is retiring from the legislature.

According to the release, 265 people were killed and 1,080 were injured in Minnesota in crashes involving distracted driving from 2013-17.  

Peggy Riggs was also at the event Friday. She's been advocating for tougher distracted driving laws since her son was killed in 2013.

"He was pulling into our driveway when he was hit and killed by a 19-year-old who was texting and driving," Riggs said.

A bill that would toughen Minnesota's distracted driving laws came close to passing in the last legislative session but at lost traction at the last minute.

Riggs said she's not giving up.

"I know I can't bring David back but I'm trying to help everyone else," she said. "Everyone else has loved ones out on the road," she said. "I think now is the time I don't think we can afford to lose any more lives."


Matt Belanger and Frank Rajkowski

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