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Our Opinion: A text can kill you - or someone else

Cellphone use, or more specifically smartphone use, has become a ubiquitous part of American culture. And that's not necessarily a good thing.

Such a sentiment could apply in almost any occasion these days—dinner with the family, out at a movie, at a sporting event or just having a night out with friends. But where such cellphone use turns from social faux pas into a frightening proposition is when it happens behind the wheel of a car.

That's why we appreciate the efforts of the Minnesota State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies to crack down on texting while driving.

In Minnesota, it is illegal for drivers to read, compose or send texts and emails, and access the web while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic. This includes sitting at a stoplight or stop sign or stopped in traffic. It also is illegal for drivers with a permit or provisional driver's license to use a cellphone while driving, except for emergencies to call 911.

Under Minnesota law, drivers face a $50 fine, plus court fees, for a first offense. They'll pay an additional $225 fine (for a total of $275), plus court fees, for second and subsequent violations of the texting-while-driving law.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, texting while driving citations continue to climb statewide, as noted by the following statistics:

• 2012—1,707

• 2013—2,177

• 2014—3,498

• 2015—4,115

• 2016—5,988

And those are just the number of citations. It's anybody's guess how many people on average are texting while driving.

In 2015, distracted driving contributed to 7,666 injuries and 74 deaths, DPS reported, and when a crash occurs in Minnesota the driver behavior that law enforcement agencies cite most often as a contributing factor is attention or distraction.

The Minnesota Legislature could take the law a step further. Several state lawmakers this year have proposed a law banning cellphone use while driving, except in hands-free mode. If passed, Minnesota would join 14 other states and Washington, D.C., that currently have hands-free laws.

Yes, admonishments about texting while driving is a bit like a broken record, but that's the point. The majority of us motorists have been or are guilty of doing it, so it's important that the message be hammered home—that texting while driving is dangerous.

Not only could you be seriously injured or killed during such a distraction in a vehicle, but you stand a chance of doing the same to someone else. On that level, it's no different than the dangers posed by drinking and driving.

We haven't had a tragedy in the Brainerd area involving texting while driving, but it could and probably will happen at some point. On almost any given day while traveling on roads in the Brainerd lakes area you will come across someone on their phone while behind the wheel.

So until self-driving cars become the norm, let's put the cellphones away and pay attention to the road.