5 new unmarked squads in Minnesota to combat distracted driving

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is sending out five new unmarked squad cars aimed at combating distracted drivers.

Not even half a block away from Minnesota State Patrol West Metro District headquarters, and a trooper in one of the new squads saw a distracted driver at an intersection.

At a news conference dubbed “The Minnesota State Patrol Stands with Frustrated Motorists Regarding Distracted Driving,” officials cited driver inattention as a contributing factor in 61 deaths and over 7,000 injuries on Minnesota roads in 2014. In the last three months, State Patrol officials have investigated at least two deadly suspected distracted driver crashes.

So far in 2015, 3,467 driver have been stopped for texting and driving, compared to 180 in the first year the state law went into effect in 2008. Minnesota’s "No Texting" law means it’s for illegal for drivers to read, send texts and emails and access the web while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic. That includes sitting at a stoplight or stop sign.

This year, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a transportation funding and policy bill into law on Friday that increases the penalty for second and subsequent violations of texting while driving to $225. The fine for the first violation is $50.

“By using unmarked vehicles, motorists who text and drive will know troopers could be watching at any time, even if that driver doesn't see a marked State Patrol vehicle,” DPS officials said.

The unmarked vehicles will be assigned to Mankato, Marshall, the east and west Metro and Brainerd.