Texting while driving? Get ready for higher fees

Published 10:01 am Friday, July 31, 2015

An increased fine for people caught texting and driving in Minnesota takes effect Saturday.

Under the enhanced law, drivers will face a $225 fine for second and subsequent violations of texting while driving. There is currently a $50 fine for first-time violators.

“The increased fine is meant to encourage drivers who repeatedly risk the safety of all motorists to put the phone down,” according to a Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety news release.

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Albert Lea Public Safety Director Dwaine Winkels supports a complete ban on using a cellphone while driving and said it’s hard to find violators of the texting and driving law because drivers can legally talk on a cellphone while driving.

“Unfortunately more tragedy may have to unfold before a complete ban is enforced,” Winkels said. “It could be done by the Legislature if they wanted to. It would be an uphill battle.”

Winkels said drivers using a cellphone are distracted and dangerous.

“When people are texting and driving, they aren’t paying attention to driving,” he said. “Important driving instincts don’t kick in as fast. Distracted drivers are dangerous, whether you are a pedestrian, bicyclist or driver.

“It’s a surprise there aren’t more accidents based on using cellphones while driving.”

The state says there are several reasons why there will be increased fines for texting and driving, including:

Driver inattention or distraction was the No. 1 contributing factor in multiple-vehicle crashes in 2014

Over the last five years (2010-2014) in Minnesota, 19 percent of all fatalities and serious injuries were distraction-related,

In 2014, driver inattention or distraction contributed to 61 deaths and more than 7,000 injuries on Minnesota roads.

In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to Distraction.gov, the official U.S. government website for distracted driving.

Albert Lea resident Tim Lewis is frustrated by those who text and drive.

“It’s stupid and crazy,” Lewis said. “People who do that are taking innocent lives. If you want to text, pull off to the side of the road.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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