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Ask a Trooper: There are many ways to be distracted

Ask a Trooper by Troy Christianson

Question: What is being done about distracted driving? It seems like it is getting worse.

Troy Christianson

Answer: When we think of distracted driving, most of us think of someone holding a phone up to their ear or scrolling through their social media feed. But distracted driving takes a lot of different forms. When you fiddle with your car stereo, you’re taking your eyes and attention off the road. Same with cleaning up a spill from that barbecue sandwich you’re trying to eat. Setting your navigation while driving also distracts from the road, and even passengers can distract you.

The Minnesota State Patrol, along with law enforcement across the state, are currently conducting an extra distracted driving enforcement campaign that runs through April 30.

Troopers, deputies and officers will be looking to educate those drivers who are distracted and enforce Minnesota’s hands-free law that went into effect in 2019. Law enforcement cited 19,778 drivers for failing to comply with the hands-free law in 2020.

• Hands-free cell phone law: The law allows a driver to use their cell phone to make calls, text, listen to music or podcasts and get directions, but only by voice commands or single-touch activation without holding the phone. Remember, hands-free is not necessarily distraction-free.

• $100 or more including court fees for a first offense.

•$300 or more including court fees for a second and/or subsequent offense.

• If you injure or kill someone while violating the hands-free law, you can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.

We want people to drive smart and focus 100% of their attention on the road to help avoid a tragedy that could change a family’s life forever. Distracted driving contributes to an average of 31 deaths and 192 life-changing injuries a year (2016-2020).

Please park the phone, turn it off, put it out of reach or use a hands-free device. Pre-program your radio stations, and adjust your mirrors and vents before you leave. Map out your destination and route in advance. Avoid messy foods and secure your beverage. Model proper driving behavior for your kids, and ask your passengers to help with anything that might take your attention away from the road.

With just a few adjustments, you can stay safe on the road and decrease your chances being involved in a crash.

If you have any questions concerning traffic-related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson, Minnesota State Patrol, at 2900 48th St. NW, Rochester, MN 55901-5848; or reach him at Troy.Christianson@state.mn.us.

Troy Christianson is a sergeant with the Minnesota State Patrol.