Swanson calls for hands-free cell phone use, stricter penalties for distracted driving

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is calling for big changes for how the state deals with distracted drivers. 

“We need to change the societal norms that have tolerated distracted driving up ‘til now,” said Swanson. “And that’s partly what this report is about.” 

Attorney General Swanson issued a report Friday, calling on state lawmakers to enact legislation requiring hands-free only cell phone use while driving, increase penalties for texting and driving - including a $175 dollars for the first offense - and suspend drivers licenses for repeat offenders.

“This isn’t a teenage problem,” said Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany. “This isn’t a law enforcement problem. This isn’t a political problem. This is a we problem. We as a society own this and we have to do something about it.”

Alongside Swanson stood families impacted by distracted driving. Peggy Riggs wore a picture of her son David, who was killed by a driver on a cell phone five years ago.

“My 19-year-old couldn’t pull into our driveway without losing his life,” said Riggs.

Statistics show cell phones are not only costing lives, but costing everyone on the roads money.

“In last five years something changed,” said Mark Kulda of the Insurance Federation of Minnesota. “Claims started to level off and increase, so our insurance premiums have gone up about 15 percent in the last few years. That almost directly coordinates with increase in distracted driving.”

Regardless who takes over as the next attorney general, governor and other state offices post-election, this group of advocates has renewed hope. 

“I know I can’t bring David back,” said Riggs. “I’m trying to help everybody else. Everyone has loved ones out on the road.”

Swanson is also asking lawmakers to allocate additional funds toward more anti-texting while driving public awareness campaigns.