Dept. of Public Safety cracks down on distracted driving

Police will be on the lookout for drivers using cellphones and engaging in other distractions.

Emily Mongan

 

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is ramping up patrols from 400 law enforcement agencies Thursday in an effort to curb distracted driving.

The effort is part of a larger campaign to educate people about the dangers of distracted driving. Officers will be encouraged to crack down on drivers spotted texting, using their phones to surf the web and engaging in other distracting activities while on the road.

In a statement released by the Department of Public Safety, Office of Traffic Safety director Donna Berger said drivers shouldn’t take their daily commute for granted.

“While driving may seem like a routine activity for many of us, the road environment changes constantly and demands focus at all times,” Berger said in the release. “We can’t use our daily commutes to conduct other business while behind the wheel.”

Thirty-seven percent of University of Minnesota students said driving alone was their primary mode of transportation compared to 67 percent of faculty and staff, according to an April 2011 survey by Parking and Transportation Services..

In Minnesota, distracted driving is to blame for one-fourth of vehicle accidents each year. Between 2008 and 2010, it was the cause of more than 10 percent of vehicle-related deaths in Hennepin County.

In 2008, Minnesota enacted a law that prohibits texting, using email and surfing the web while operating a vehicle — even when a driver is stopped at an intersection or stuck in traffic.

Drivers under 18 years old are completely prohibited from using a cellphone while driving, even for making calls.

While younger drivers may be the target of distracted driving legislation, the Thursday campaign will have no specific target demographic, said Nathan Bowie, information officer for the DPS.

“It isn’t just one audience or demographic. It really is a broad range of motorists who often find themselves distracted behind the wheel,” Bowie said.

Since the law was enacted, distracted driving citations have increased from 294 in 2009 to 784 citations in 2011.

Aside from texting, law enforcement officials will be on the lookout for drivers eating, applying makeup or doing anything else that may impair their driving abilities.

“It’s important to remember that distractions go beyond the cellphones and texting,” Bowie said. “There’s quite a wide realm of distractions, which is a serious issue behind the wheel.”