Lawmaker wants Minnesota to toughen up its distracted driving laws

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At the State Capitol this year, legislation to toughen laws on distracted driving went nowhere and now one lawmaker is preparing to take up the issue again at the start of the new year.

Minnesota Sen. David Osmek announced a new bill this week that would make the penalty for driving and using an electronic device in some instances equal to that of a DWI.

“I think that people will start to pay more attention when the crime actually fits the fine,” Osmek said.

The Republican lawmaker says that the new legislation is a combination of three bills proposed this year.

One component increases fees for anyone cited for distracted driving and anyone who causes an accident could face serious time behind bars.

“If you kill someone while you’re distracted using an electronic device, not in a hands free setting you can go to jail for a very long time,” Osmek said. “Maybe that will wake people up to this problem.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, texting is the most common cause of distracted driving accidents.

In 2015, distracted driving crashes caused more than 3,000 fatalities and close to 400,000 injuries.

“I’m not a big fan of bans, but I am a big fan of penalties if you take the risk and you cause harm to another human being then you need to pay a penalty and that’s what this does,” Osmek said.

Just this Tuesday, in Munson Township, Stearns County Sheriff’s officers were called to a single car accident where the driver behind the wheel admitted he became distracted by this phone and went into a ditch, rolling his car several times. Fortunately, he survived.

Some states are now citing drivers for DUI-E, or driving under the influence of electronics. Minnesota could be next.

“We’ve got too many people who aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing behind the wheel and this type of bill should get their attention and hopefully start to reduce the amount of damage we’re doing to society,” Osmek stated.