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

October 26, 2018 03:24 PM

Minnesota lawmakers decided to not take a full vote on tougher distracted driving bills, but in a compromise, they did agree to increase penalties for those who text, internet surf or email while driving.

One of the bills known as the hands-free bill would have allowed use of a cellphone only if it could be done without using your hands while driving.

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RELATED: Author: Hands-Free Bill Will Not Get Vote in House

Another bill would have made it a felony for using a cell phone while driving and causing a crash which resulted in serious injury, or death.

Rep. Keith Franke, (R) St. Paul Park, authored the felony distracted driving bill and said he was disappointed the tougher sentencing provisions were dropped from his bill, but he is happy "something got done."

"Clearly, I am disheartened by the fact we are not enhancing penalties for distracted drivers convicted of causing a crash that killed someone," Franke said. "But for a while there, it looked like we were going to get nothing this session, and at least the increased fines is a start."

RELATED: Hands-Free Bill Passes Committee, Moves to House Floor for Vote

Under the compromise, the hands-free bill and Franke's bill would have new language that carries a second offense penalty increase for distracted driving while using a cell phone from $150 to $300.

If a driver gets a third distracted driving offense while using a cell phone within five years of the first two offenses, the penalty increases to $500, a mandatory court appearance and a misdemeanor criminal conviction.

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

Rep. Franke said he does not think the increased fines will go far enough to deter people from picking up their phones while driving, and we will likely see more deaths and serous injuries as a result.

"This is not the end game on this by any means," Franke said.  "I guarantee you hands-free will be back and my bill making death and great bodily harm while driving and using an electronic device a low-level felony will be back in 2019."

Ryan Verdeck's wife, Penny, died while riding her bike on County Road 3, in 2015, in Glencoe. He said he is happy to see there are increased fines, but he too wants to see more done in the future.

RELATED: Hands-Free Bill Remains Alive, But No Floor Votes Yet

"Only slightly increasing fines for distracted driving will not save lives," Verdeck said. "We have an antiquated law that does not reflect today's current epidemic of using our phones behind the wheel and Franke's bill and the hands-free bill would have saved lives."

Credits

Jay Kolls

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