Bill to address texting while driving gets hearing

Published 11:05 am Friday, March 3, 2017

A bill introduced earlier this session at the Legislature bans cellphone use while driving, with the exception of hands-free devices.

A House of Representatives committee hearing on the bill is planned for today. A Senate committee hearing has been delayed because of concerns over the scope of the law, said former District 27A Rep. Dan Dorman.

Dan Dorman

Dorman, whose father-in-law, Joseph F. Tikalsky Jr., was killed by a distracted driver in October 2015, said he supports the legislation to help prevent other families and first responders from having to endure a similar tragedy.

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Other states such as Illinois have instituted the ban, Dorman said.

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett is co-authoring the bill.

“I support whatever will reduce texting by driving,” she said. “I want to have this bill’s particular strategy — only allow use of handheld devices when using hands-free technology — vetted to see if it would have the desired effect,” she said.

Bennett said the legislation is a step in the right direction to stop distracted driving.

“That’s why we need to hear this bill in committee — to hear the pros and cons and find out the best way to deal with this issue,” she said.

Bennett said she has discussed distracting driving with Dan and Mary Jo Dorman and is committed to reducing texting and driving deaths and injuries.

“I support this bill because it opens the door to a serious discussion about this issue at the state level, and it is imperative that we have that discussion,” she said.

To Bennett, texting and driving is similar to drinking and driving.

“Texting while driving needs to be treated the same as drinking while driving, because it produces the same devastating effects,” she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers nationwide in 2014.

Dorman said the bill could be included in a House transportation bill if it is not taken up by the Senate, and he is not sure the bill will pass this year because previous attempts were unsuccessful.

Despite the possibility the bill will not pass, Dorman said advocates need to press the issue to influence public perception of distracted driving.

He compared public perception of distracted driving to public perception of driving while intoxicated 30 to 40 years ago.

“It’s only an innocent mistake until you hurt or kill somebody,” Dorman said.

He said the law closes a loophole in existing law that requires an officer to have a search warrant to gain access to a phone to prove that a suspect who claims they were using the device for GPS only was texting or using it for another purpose.

Dorman said he disagrees with arguments that the bill is a government overreach or harms poor people who cannot afford hands-free devices.

Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag said the legislation is a step in the right direction to solve the problem.

About Sam Wilmes

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

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