Legislation cracking down on distracted drivers has gained considerable momentum at the state capitol. House and Senate committees took up and passed bills which hope to curb the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Governor Walz has already indicated his support for such legislation.
The House Transportation Committee held a hearing on House File 50, a bill prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving unless hands-free. Public testimony from persons who had lost loved ones to accidents involving distracted drivers was emotional and overwhelming. There was no testimony in opposition of the proposal.
Current law already bans texting while driving. This bill would prohibit all device usage in hands free mode, video calling and live streaming. Voice activated or hand - free modes could be used for calls and the use of global positioning systems. Motorists could also listen to audio based content such as podcasts that require a single touch to engage or disengage. The prohibition would not apply to the use of a cell phone in an emergency nor if the vehicle is pulled over to the side of the road and not considered to be in use.
The bill would apply the current penalty for violation of the texting prohibition, $50 for the first offence and $225 for future offenses. The bill passed the committee by a unanimous voice vote.
Following the House action, the Senate Transportation Committee endorsed two bills. The first, Senate File 91, was pretty much identical to the bill passed by the House committee. The second bill imposes fines up to $500 on repeat offenders and makes prison time possible for distracted drivers in serious crashes. Last year a similar bill languished in the Senate, but there seems now to be considerable support for the hand-held prohibition. However, the concept of making distracted driving a felony could face a harder road ahead.
The bill is supported by the MN Safety Council, law enforcement , the trucking industry as well as the Minnesota Insurance Federation. The MIIA joined a hands-free collation last year and continues to support the distracted driving bill. Fifteen states and numerous cities and towns have already adopted this legislation. Minnesota seems on track to be state number sixteen