Law enforcement continues the fight against distracted driving

Picture this: While sitting in traffic at a stoplight, you glance over at the other driver and they're on their cellphone or smartphone. Texting and driving. Most have probably done it and know it's not the smartest thing to do, aside from the fa...

Brainerd officers Derek Pallansch and Justin Athman pull a driver over for texting and driving Thusday on Washington Street. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery and Video)
Brainerd officers Derek Pallansch and Justin Athman pull a driver over for texting and driving on Washington Street during last year's texting and driving saturation. (File photo/Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

Picture this: While sitting in traffic at a stoplight, you glance over at the other driver and they're on their cellphone or smartphone.

Texting and driving. Most have probably done it and know it's not the smartest thing to do, aside from the fact that it is against the law. However, there are a large number of people in the Brainerd lakes area, and around the state, who continue to use their electronics while driving, putting themselves and other motorists in danger.

More than 300 law enforcement agencies from across the state conducted a distracted driving wave for seven days last week to enforce the dangers of texting and driving. Law enforcement from the lakes area, including Brainerd, Baxter, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes and Crosby, the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota State Patrol worked together to focus on motorists using their electronic devices while driving and distracted driving in general, which includes shaving, putting on makeup, eating, drinking, changing the radio stations, among many other things. Officers were paid overtime to work extra shifts to focus on distracted driving. Funds came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and were awarded to partners by the Office of Traffic Safety.

Brainerd Patrolman Tony Runde, who coordinates the Toward Zero Death grant-a distracted driving education component of Minnesota's core traffic safety effort-said distracted driving continues to be a major problem in the lakes area and technology in today's world has made it worse.

"It's really tough to catch people texting and driving," Runde said. "I hate to say it but we have to be sneaky in order to catch them. We see people looking down (most likely on their phones) but we need admission. We can ask to see their phone, but they don't have to give us permission.


"I believe there needs to be a culture change in order for this problem to come to a head. Crashes are still going to happen and most of the time technology is tied to it. People are putting their lives and other lives in danger."

During last week's distracted driving wave, law enforcement in Crow Wing County handed out the following citations, which are preliminary numbers:

• Nine citations and four written warnings for motorists texting and driving.

• Three citations and three written warnings for inattentive driving.

• Nine citations for no seat belts and six written warnings.

Last year in the county, there were 39 citations written for distracted driving and 67 written warnings; and 61 citations written for inattentive driving and 68 written warnings.

Runde said he would like to see the numbers of citations higher as he knows there are plenty of motorists who use their devices while driving or sitting at a traffic light. However, the violation is tough to see and prove.

Runde said most of the citations and warnings were in Brainerd. He said inattentive driving citations included a motorist spilling pop and another who said "I wasn't paying attention."


"What people may not realize is it's not just the texting," Runde said. "It's accessing the internet, turning your music on ... one motorist said she was ordering a pizza while in traffic. People are so busy today and we do everything on our phones."

Runde said police are not out to get motorists who have been cited using their technology while in traffic. Police want to educate the public and try to get society to change the culture to make it stop. Runde said this is what law enforcement did to get motorists to start wearing their seat belts years ago to help decrease the number of deaths in crashes. Runde said law enforcement wrote more tickets and increased public awareness on the value of seat belts and now the number of deaths from crashes are down because people are wearing their seat belts.

Runde said a primary vision of the TZD program is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior.

Runde offers motorists tips to take away the temptation of using their phones, such as putting their phone in the glove box or somewhere out of reach or having passengers use the driver's phone to text, map directions or whatever the driver needs. Runde said having passengers or children in the car reminding the driver not to use their phone while driving is a good deterrent.


Distracted Driving/Texting and Driving facts

According to statistics collected by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety, more than 86,000 crashes were distracted driving related from 2010-14, contributing to one in four crashes in Minnesota.

In 2014, distracted driving contributed to 7,373 injuries and 61 deaths; contributed to an average of 66 deaths and 228 life-changing injuries a year in the four-year period.


The state reports "it's a myth to think we can multitask behind the wheel." At 55 mph, texting and driving is like traveling the length of a football field without looking up.

Other facts:

• Numbers show there were 3,200 citations for violating Minnesota's texting-while-driving law in 2014.

• Drivers in their 20s make up 27 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration..

• During daylight hours, 666,000 drivers are using cell phones or electronic devices while driving, states the National Occupant Protection Use Survey.

• Five seconds is the average time a person's eyes are off the road while texting according to Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

• A quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive, states the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

• Reaching for a phone, dialing or texting increases the risk of getting into a crash by three times, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute states.


• Distracted driving crashes are likely under-reported due to law enforcement's challenge in determining distraction as a crash factor.

• Using a cellphone while driving, whether hands-free or hand-held, delays a driver's reactions as much as having an alcohol-concentration level of .08 percent, the University of Utah reports.

• 10 percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports.

• One-third of drivers admitted to texting while driving, and three-quarters said they've seen others do it, according to the 2015 Erie Insurance survey.

• If a person texts while driving, on average it takes their eyes off the road for up to 4.6 out of every six seconds.


The Law

On Aug. 1, 2015, texting and driving fines increased. The fine for the first offense for texting and driving is $50, plus court fees; $275 for a second offense, plus court fees. If a motorist injures or kills someone because of texting and driving, they can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.


Minnesota State Law on texting and driving is defined:

169.475 Use of Wireless Communications Device

Subdivision 1. Definition: For purposes of this section, "electronic message" means a self-contained piece of digital communication designed or intended to be transmitted between physical devices. An electronic message includes, but is not limited to, email, a text message, an instant message, a command or request to access a World Wide Web page, or other data that uses a commonly recognized electronic communications protocol. An electronic message does not include voice or other data transmitted as a result of making a phone call, or data transmitted automatically by a wireless communications device without direct initiation by a person.

Subdivision. 2. Prohibition on use. No person may operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device to compose, read or send an electronic message, when the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic.

Subdivision. 3. Exceptions. This section does not apply if a wireless communications device is used:

• Solely in a voice-activated or other hands-free mode;

• For making a cellular phone call;

• For obtaining emergency assistance to report a traffic accident, medical emergency, or serious traffic hazard, or prevent a crime about to be committed;


• On the reasonable belief a person's life or safety is in immediate danger; or

• On an authorized emergency vehicle while in the performance of official duties.


JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.

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