ST. PAUL — Minnesota drivers need to pay attention to this: State traffic safety officials and law enforcement agencies are launching a distracted driving education campaign this week anchored by increased enforcement on Thursday, April 19.
The effort, coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety, will include ramped-up patrols from nearly 400 city and county agencies, partnering with the State Patrol.
The campaign will include paid media as well as support from the Minnesota Safety Council and the Minnesota Teen Coalition to encourage high school students to push anti-distracted driving messages through social media channels and at schools.
Driver distraction is a contributing factor in one-quarter of all Minnesota vehicle crashes annually — and resulting in 208 deaths and nearly 26,000 injuries in the last three years.
In Minnesota, it is illegal for drivers to read, compose or send texts/emails, and access the Web on a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic — even at a stoplight/stop sign, or stuck in traffic. It is also illegal for drivers under age 18 to use a cell phone at any time.
“While driving may seem like a routine activity for many of us, the road environment changes constantly and demands focus at all times,” says Donna Berger, DPS Office of Traffic Safety director. “We can’t use our daily commutes to conduct other business while behind the wheel.”
Minnesota’s “no texting” law was enacted in August 2008 and citations have increased each year:
2008 (five months) — 93; 2009 — 294; 2010 — 518; 2011 — 784.
Distractions cause drivers to react more slowly to traffic conditions or events, such as a vehicle stopping or pulling out in traffic. A University of Utah study reports that using a cell phone while driving, whether hands-free or hand-held, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having an alcohol-concentration level of 0.08 percent. And when texting, drivers take their eyes off the road for up to 4.6 out of every 6 seconds — equivalent to traveling the length of a football field at 55 mph hours without looking up.
DPS underscores driver distractions include reaching for items, fiddling with radio/music/vehicle controls, eating/drinking, dealing with rowdy passengers, grooming and more.
Tips to minimize distractions:
Cell phones — turn off cell phones, or place them out of reach to avoid the urge to dial/answer or read or send a text. If a passenger is present, ask them to handle calls/texts.
Music and other controls — pre-program favorite radio stations and arrange music in an easy-to-access spot. Adjust mirrors and AC/heat before traveling, or ask a passenger to assist.
Navigation — designate a passenger to serve as a co-pilot to help with directions. If driving alone, map out destinations in advance, and pull over to study a map or program the GPS.
Eating and drinking — try to avoid food/beverage (especially messy foods) and have drinks secured.
Children — teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle; do not underestimate how distracting it can be to tend to children while driving.
Passengers should speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior.
If making/receiving a call to/from someone driving, ask them to call back when they are not driving.
About the Office of Traffic Safety
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) designs, implements, and coordinates federally funded traffic safety enforcement and education programs to improve driver behaviors and reduce the deaths and serious injuries that occur on Minnesota roads. OTS also administers state funds for the motorcycle safety program and for the child seats for needy families program. OTS is an anchoring partner of the state’s Toward Zero Deaths traffic safety initiative.
Recent OTS Activity
A statewide DWI crackdown on St. Patrick’s Day weekend resulted in at least 250 DWI arrests.
OTS released a study conducted by the University of Minnesota that found the primary seat belt law has resulted in 68 fewer deaths since the law was enacted nearly three years ago.
OTS is coordinating a pilot program, parent-teen driver awareness courses, to educate parents about their responsibilities to train and monitor their new teen driver.
Real-time Officer Activity Report is being rolled out statewide to increase the ease with which enforcement agencies report their activities in order for OTS to report enforcement results to the public.
OTS partners with AAA Minnesota/Iowa for the eighth year of the Buckle Up Teens! TV Commercial Challenge. Teens create TV PSAs to educate peers.