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Minnesota Sees 75 Percent Rise in Distracted Driving Citations

Law enforcement officials have cracked down on the illegal behavior, with some agencies using pickup trucks outfitted with cameras for a higher vantage point to peer into vehicles and catch distracted driving.

(TNS) — Motorists sending texts and others checking their bank accounts while behind the wheel — law enforcement saw it all during a month-long enforcement campaign targeting distracted drivers.

In all, law enforcement cited more than 5,300 motorists for violating the state's hands-free law from April 1-30, a 57% increase over last year when police carried out a similar campaign.

"The number of citations issued is disturbing, unacceptable and extremely frustrating," said Mike Hanson, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety. "Getting distracted behind the wheel for even a couple seconds can end with someone being seriously hurt or killed."

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of traffic fatalities and crashes leading to severe injuries, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) said. Between 2019 and 2023, distracted driving was a factor in 30,000 crashes, which led to an average of 29 deaths a year and 146 life-changing injuries, the agency said.

Minnesota law prohibits motorists from holding a phone or electronic device, reading or composing emails or text messages, streaming videos or accessing the internet while behind the wheel. Drivers can touch their phone once to make a call, send voice-activated text messages or listen to podcasts. But multiple touches, such as dialing a phone number or punching in GPS coordinates, are outlawed.

Law enforcement officials have ramped up their game to crack down on the illegal behavior. Some agencies are using pickup trucks outfitted with cameras to give them a higher vantage point from which to peer into vehicles and catch drivers in the act.

In Olmsted County in southeastern Minnesota, law enforcement teamed with school crossing guards to nab five offenders.

Anoka County Sheriff's deputies didn't need extra help; they spotted drivers who admitted to texting their mothers and checking bank accounts. In St. Paul, police stopped two drivers twice in the same day for the infraction that comes with a $120 fine for the first offense and more than $300 for subsequent offenses, with additional court costs tacked on.

In the metro area, St. Paul police handed out the most citations (951) followed by the State Patrol (450), the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department (172), Bloomington police (122) and Edina police (78).

In Greater Minnesota, the State Patrol issued 1,045 tickets, the most of any of the 278 agencies that participated in the effort that was part of April's Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Hanson has one message for drivers after seeing the big jump from the 3,427 tickets issued last year to the 5,380 handed out this year: "Put distractions away and make the roads safer for everyone."

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