Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

News Release

April 8, 2016

Orange barrels on a highway

Distracted Driving is putting South Central TZD Regional drivers at risk!

Local county coalition members are working to eliminate distracted driving

MANKATO, Minn. – In July 2015, a statewide distracted driving survey was conducted. The results of this survey indicate that 29 percent of drivers in Minnesota where participating in behaviors that could lead to distractions behind the wheel. Local communities wanted to see if this is true for southern Minnesota drivers.

Distracted driving is an unsafe habit and drivers in Blue Earth, Nicollet and Le Sueur Counties are visibly and dangerously demonstrating the need to improve their focus. Local concerned citizens recently monitored traffic for one hour at intersections near schools and other locations throughout the three counties. They observed more than 960 instances of distracted driving behaviors and found that 27 percent of drivers are potentially driving distracted. 

Community members recorded distractions that ranged from the ordinary — using handheld devices to sending text messages as well as eating and drinking onto the extraordinary — seeing a driver allowing a dog on the steering wheel.

Motivated by what they observed, area volunteers aim to eliminate distracted driving among their peers and in their community. “We witnessed a near miss crash, a driver who was texting almost ran into the stoplight,” said an area Blue Earth County volunteer.  Other volunteers said, “Distraction is definitely a problem, students are trying to cross the road and cars are not even slowing down or are watching for pedestrians!”

During the time that area volunteers monitored driver behavior outside area schools or local intersections, the following distractions were prevalent:

  • Use of handheld device: 535 times
  • Eating and drinking: 121 times
  • Reaching for an item or not looking at the road: 79 times
  • Personal grooming: 52 times

Distractions Defined

More than just cellphone use, distracted driving is categorized as a range of activities that impact a driver’s visual, auditory, physical or cognitive abilities when driving. It’s not just the usual suspects of cell phones and texting. It can include daydreaming, putting attention toward something outside of the vehicle, eating, reaching for items, changing music, and dealing with rowdy passengers or kids.

In Minnesota, distracted driving is a leading factor in crashes each year. Distracted driving contributes to one in four crashes. In a five year period (2010 – 2014), 328 people lost their lives and 1,138 people suffered life-changing injuries in districted driving-related crashes.

The area safe road local coalition members want to raise awareness among adult and teen drivers in all communities about the importance of eliminating distractions while driving. They want you to know it’s not just law enforcement that is watching you, we are too.  “We are speaking up, enough is enough. Just drive when you get behind the wheel! No distraction is worth a life” said a Le Sueur County volunteer.  

Distracted Driving Behaviors

Posting on Facebook, checking that box score or Googling information on a device while driving are all against the law under Minnesota’s “Use of Wireless Communications Device” statute, which is commonly referred to as the texting and driving law.

Do Your Part

  • Cell phones — Put the phone down, turn it off or place it out of reach.
  •  Music and other controls — Pre-program radio stations and arrange music in an easy-to-access spot. Adjust mirrors and ventilation before traveling.
  • Navigation — Map out the destination and enter the GPS route in advance.
  •  Eating and drinking — Avoid messy foods and secure drinks.
  • Children — Teach children the importance of good behavior in a vehicle and model proper driving behavior.
  •  Passengers — Speak up to stop drivers from distracted driving behavior and offer to help with anything that takes the driver’s attention off the road.

Enhanced Law Targets Repeat Offenders

In Minnesota, it is illegal for drivers to read, compose or 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. It is also illegal for drivers with a permit or provisional driver’s license to use a cell phone while driving, except for emergencies to call 911.

Under Minnesota’s enhanced law, drivers face a $275 fine, plus court fees, for second and subsequent violations of the texting while driving law.

If you injure or kill someone because of texting and driving, you can face a felony charge of criminal vehicular operation or homicide.

More than 300 law enforcement agencies across the state will participate in the campaign that runs through April 17.  This campaign is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (DPS-OTS).

Distracted driving education is a component of Minnesota’s core traffic safety program, Toward Zero Deaths (TZD). A primary vision of the TZD program is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior. TZD focuses on the application of four strategic areas to reduce crashes — education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency medical and trauma response.

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